Deaths from accidental
prescription drug overdose on rise in New Mexico
Newswise — Accidental overdose
deaths in New Mexico caused by prescription drugs increased at a
higher rate than those caused by illegal drugs such as heroin and
cocaine, according to a new study covering a 10-year period.
Opioid pain relievers — such as
codeine, Demerol and morphine — accounted for the majority of the
deaths caused by prescription drugs in the study from the May
American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
“The increasing role of opioid
painkillers in unintentional drug overdose deaths suggests that
overdose prevention efforts would be well targeted at this drug
class,” said lead researcher Mark Mueller, an epidemiologist with
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Using statewide medical examiner
reports, Mueller and colleagues determined that of the 765
prescription drug-related overdose deaths in New Mexico from 1994 to
2003, more than three-fourths were caused by opioid pain relievers.
A third of deaths were caused by tranquilizers, and one-quarter were
caused by antidepressants. (Because some deaths were caused by
multiple drugs, the total exceeds 100 percent.)
Unintentional prescription drug
overdoses accounted for 1.9 deaths out of 100,000 deaths at the
beginning of the study period, rising to 5.3 overdose deaths out of
100,000 deaths. This represented a 179-percent increase over a
decade, compared with the 121-percent rise in unintentional overdose
deaths due to illegal drugs.
New Mexico has had the highest
drug-induced death rate in the United States since the 1990s,
according to background information in the study.
Sidney Schnoll, clinical professor
of internal medicine and psychiatry at the Medical College of
Virginia, acknowledged that prescription drug abuse is a growing
problem. “However, I would be concerned about extrapolating these
findings. New Mexico is a relatively rural state, and one of the
things we know about prescription drug abuse, particularly
prescription opioid abuse, is that it is more of a problem of rural
areas than urban areas,” Schnoll said.
Although this is the first study
to evaluate the contribution of prescription drugs to the
unintentional overdose death rate in New Mexico, the authors say
that such deaths are increasing around the world in tandem with
increasing medical and nonmedical use of prescription drugs,
especially narcotic pain relievers.
“While we would all agree on the
value of properly prescribed and used opioids, this study
illustrates the need to reinforce proper prescribing practices and
usage of prescription drugs, particularly opioid painkillers,” said
Mueller. “It will also be important to find new ways to prevent
deaths due to prescription drugs acquired through street diversion.”