Deaths from Prescription Drugs Soar

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Americans are abusing prescription painkillers, sedatives and stimulants at such an alarming rate that more die each year from these legal drugs than from heroin and cocaine combined, according to the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health.

The group’s report released Monday says that deaths from opiate-contained Vicodin and OxyContin, pills to treat depression and stimulants for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder quadrupled between 1999 and 2010.

In West Virginia, for instance, overdose rates skyrocketed over the past 15 years by 605 percent — easily the highest in the nation.  Meanwhile, deaths by prescription medications now exceed fatalities from car accidents in 29 states.

Overall, it’s believed that 6.1 million American abuse prescription drugs annually.  Generally, it’s men ages 25 to 54 who are more apt to take the medications for reasons they weren’t intended for.

One of the report’s consultants, Andrea Gielen, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy in Baltimore, says the problem “warrants a strong public health response” such as more oversight and training by physicians and health agencies.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Levi of Trust for America’s Health asserts pain management is a challenge, adding, “We’re always trying to strike this balance between assuring access to appropriate treatment for pain and making sure that pain killers are not abused and that clinics do not push drugs to people who do not need them.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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