Each year in the United States, an estimated 193,000 individuals die as a result of an injury, according to NBC News. In recent years, automotive and firearms have lost their spot as the leading causes of accidental deaths. Instead, we have seen death after an accidental overdose take their place, with prescription drug overdose deaths doubling in the past 14 years.
Since taking prescription drugs in any way other than the method prescribed by a medical professional can endanger the life of the person abusing the drug and those they interact with, this guide outlines important information concerning prescription drugs and accidental overdose, including:
- A comparison of prescription drug and illicit drug overdose.
- The correlation between prescription drug use and accidental deaths.
- The populations most at risk for accidental prescription drug overdose.
- The signs and behaviors associated with prescription drug abuse.
- How you can avoid abusing or developing a dependence to prescription drugs.
- What you should do if you or someone you love is struggling with prescription drug abuse.
In this article, you can expect to increase your understanding of how prescription drugs have grown to be the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States. In addition to this, you will learn tips to avoid a dependence on prescription drugs.
Understanding the Correlation Between Prescription Drug Use and Accidental Deaths
In general, we have seen an alarming rise of accidental deaths in the United States. Although some forms of accidental death have significantly decreased in recent years, including motor vehicle accidents, the number of accidental deaths from prescription drugs continues to rise.
According to new report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, more than 44,000 Americans died because of a drug overdose in 2013. And while illicit drugs did play a role in a big portion of these deaths, 51.8 percent of these were the result of prescription drug overdose.
Comparing Prescription Drug and Illicit Drug Overdose
Although death rates are not tracked for all drugs, the National Institute on Drug Abuse provides a close look at the overdose rates for both heroin and cocaine — two of the most commonly abused illicit drugs in the United States.
First, let’s take a look at these two drugs so we can compare prescription drug overdose rates with illicit drug overdose rates in order to highlight how serious prescription drug abuse has become in the United States:
- In 2013, just under 5,000 deaths occurred as the result of cocaine overdose. The majority of these deaths were seen in men, with just over a thousand of the deaths seen in women. Even though this number is a significant decrease from a large spike of overdoses seen between 2005 and 2007, it is still a 29 percent increase since 2001.
- In 2013, just under 9,000 deaths were attributed to heroin overdose. The majority of these deaths were seen in men, with just over a thousand of the deaths seen in women. This number is an alarming increase, with heroin overdose responsible for five times more deaths in 2013 than in 2001.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse also provides a detailed look at how prescription overdose deaths break down. By providing a comparison of prescription opioid pain relievers and prescription benzodiazepines, we can better grasp exactly where the risk for prescription drug overdose lies:
- Benzodiazepines, frequently shortened to the name “Benzos”, are often prescribed for insomnia, anxiety, and alcohol withdrawal, and they are often used in combination with anesthetics before surgeries. Commonly prescribed Benzos include Xanax and Valium. Benzos were responsible for nearly 7,000 deaths in the United States in 2013. This is a four-fold increase since 2001.
- Opioids are prescribed to patients as a means of relieving pain. Pain relief is accomplished by suppressing the pain signals that are sent to the brain. The most commonly prescribed opioid painkillers include hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine and codeine. Prescription opioid painkillers were responsible for an estimated 16,000 deaths in the United States in 2013. This is a three-fold increase in prescription opioid overdoses since 2001.
Who Is at Risk for Accidental Deaths From Prescription Drugs?
Now that you have an understanding of how many accidental deaths are caused by prescription drugs, it is important to understand which groups of people are most at risk for accidental deaths from prescription drugs.
- Between the years 1999 and 2013, the majority of prescription opioid overdoses were seen in people ages 25 to 54. The highest number of opioid overdose deaths were seen in ages 45-54, with 10.6 deaths occurring for every 100,000 in this age group, according the CDC. For adults within the 55 to 64 age group, a seven-fold increase was seen for prescription opioid overdose deaths between 1999 and 2013.
- Most of the adults who died after a prescription opioid overdose were non-Hispanic whites, with 6.8 of every 100,000 White-Hispanic adults dying from an overdose of opioid prescriptions. In the non-Hispanic, black population, prescription opioid overdose deaths more than doubled between the years 1999 and 2013.
- A very small increase was seen in the Hispanic population, but the American Indian and Alaska Native populations experienced a four-fold increase in prescription opioid overdose deaths between the years 1999 and 2013.
- Although men are currently significantly more likely to die from a prescription opioid overdose than their women counterparts, the disparity between men and women has decreased significantly in recent years. Between the years 1999 and 2010, we have witnessed a four hundred percent increase in prescription opioid overdose deaths in women.
Understanding which populations are most in danger of an overdose death is important to both prevention and treatment. With an adequate understanding of who is at the highest risk, the hope is that society can provide targeted prevention in high schools as well as at the doctor’s office. In addition, this information helps doctors to target recovery information and resources toward those who are most likely to struggle with dependence on painkillers or other addictive drugs.
How Legal Prescriptions Put People in Danger of Addiction or Overdose
The circumstances surrounding prescription drug overdose and addiction are unique. In many situations, use of these drugs began innocently enough. In recent years, opioids have become a commonly prescribed drug for chronic pain, injury and surgery recovery, as well as for cancer-related pain.
However, these drugs are highly addictive, and when individuals develop a dependence on the drug, the drugs may lose their pain relieving effect on the body. As a result, many who began with a legal drug prescription may feel they have to increase their dosage against their doctor’s orders in order to continue managing their pain.
When prescription drugs are used in any way other than what a doctor has prescribed, it classifies as drug abuse. In 2013, nearly two million Americans abused prescription drugs
There are many cases where the prescription drug abuse is unintentional, such as by accidentally taking a wrong dose or by simply increasing the dose over time to compensate for the lost effectiveness of the drug. In other cases, though, prescription overdoses are completely intentional.
Adults and adolescents are at the highest risk for using prescription drugs to harm themselves or end their life. Unfortunately, some accidental overdoses do occur in young children who ingest their parents’ prescriptions when the drugs are not properly secured. This can be avoided by keeping all medications in a locked safe or behind a locked door.
How Doctors Can Play a Role in Preventing Prescription Drug Overdose
Since many adults struggling with an addiction to prescription medications began by taking the drug as a legally prescribed medication, prevention of prescription drug overdose begins with the prescribing doctor.
All doctors should comply strictly with safe prescribing practices. This can be done by first prescribing alternative, non-habit forming drugs instead of opioid prescriptions whenever possible. Doctors can also provide resources on pain management techniques. All doctors must comply with their state’s policies on prescribing, and many states are taking an active role in identifying fraudulent prescriptions.
Providers can also participate in prescription drug monitoring programs, or PDMPs. These programs have been set up by individual states to keep track of the medications prescribed to patients statewide. The information collected in PDMPs is used to detect possible prescription medication abuse in hopes of decreasing the likelihood for addiction and accidental overdose.
Tips for Patients to Avoid Prescription Drug Overdose
Although doctors providing prescriptions can play a big role in preventing accidental overdose, patients are the ones ultimately responsible for their habits surrounding prescription drug consumption. There are many things patients can do to avoid prescription drug overdose. It is important to make an active effort to lower your risk of overdose by the using the tips provided below:
- If you have been prescribed a habit-forming medication, such as a benzodiazepine or an opioid painkiller, it is crucial to only take the medication provided exactly as prescribed by your physician.
- Never combine an opioid or benzo prescription with alcohol or other drugs, as using them in this manner could increase your chances of accidental overdose.
- Only take prescription medications in their original form. If a pill is meant to be swallowed whole, crushing and snorting a pill is an abuse of that drug and could put you at a higher risk for an overdose.
- Whenever possible, choose a non-habit forming prescription. One of the easiest means of avoiding accidental overdose or addiction to prescription drugs is avoiding habit-forming prescriptions altogether. Before opting for these drugs, try alternative medications for managing your pain or mental health condition.
- Never take a prescription that was not prescribed to you. Medications are often prescribed with individual circumstances in mind, including whether the drug has been taken previously by that individual and in accordance with the person’s weight, age and gender. Using another person’s medication could increase your risk for overdose.
- If you have teenagers or young children in your home, keep medications secured in a lock-box or behind a locked door.
- Always tell your doctor if you are taking other medications. In some cases, overdose may occur because of an interaction between two drugs. Therefore, it is crucial to communicate all medications, including over-the-counter medications and supplements, to avoid dangerous interactions.
- Update your doctor on your pain levels. If the medication prescribed is not effective, talk openly with your doctor about other options. Never take matters into your own hands by seeking a prescription illegally or increasing your dose without a doctor’s permission.
- Educate yourself on prescription drug overdose. Knowing the risks associated with prescription drug use plays a crucial role in avoiding overdose or addiction.
Seeking Help for A Prescription Drug Dependence
At JourneyPure Emerald Coast in Panama City Beach, Florida, we know drug addiction changes hundreds of thousands of lives each year. Abuse of prescription drugs can lead to dependency. This dependency can interfere with daily activities, endanger relationships, ruin careers, and in some cases, end lives.
Because of this, we are devoted to doing everything we can to advocate for sobriety and wellbeing. We do this by offering addiction treatment of the highest quality for our patients and providing educational information concerning addiction and recovery to the general public.
If you or someone you love is abusing prescription medication, there is an increased risk for accidental overdose. Withdrawal from an addictive substance can be incredibly difficult and scary, and it should be done with the help of a medical professional. When addiction to prescription medications has become a problem, addiction treatment is the best step for avoiding an accidental overdose.
At JourneyPure Emerald Coast, we address both the troubling addiction as well as any underlying mental health challenges, providing every patient with a safe place to heal from the consequences of prescription drug addiction in their life.
If you have concerns about your prescription drug use, if you have a patient who is abusing prescription drugs or if you know a loved one who may be addicted to prescription drugs, call us today at (800) 493-5253.
Contact JourneyPure Emerald Coast 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to learn more about our prescription drug addiction treatment programs.