Accidental Prescription Drug Overdoses on the Rise

Accidental overdose of prescription drugs has become the second leading cause of death in the United States, according to a study in the recent issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The study’s researchers found a 37 percent increase in accidental poisoning by opioids, sedatives and tranquilizers between 1999 and 2006. In comparison, accidental poisonings by drugs and other substances increased 21 percent during that time.

Accidental Overdose

“People have seen the headlines related to Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith and they think that’s tragic but maybe contained to Hollywood,” Dr. Jeffrey H. Coben of West Virginia University School of Medicine in Morgantown told Reuters Health. “But the fact of the matter is we are seeing, across the country, very significant increases in serious overdoses associated with these prescription drugs.”

The prescription drugs most likely to be abused include the following:

  • Opioids, such as OxyContin, morphine, methadone and Percocet
  • Sedatives and tranquilizers, including Valium, Xanax and Ativan

The number of hospital admissions due to the accidental overdose of prescription opioids, sedatives and tranquilizers increased about 65 percent between 1999 and 2006. That increase was twice as much as the increase for hospitalization due to poisoning by other drugs and substances.

People who intentionally overdosed on prescription medications through suicide or poisoning doubled from about 10,000 in 1999 to about 24,000 in 2006.

Who Is at Risk for Accidental Overdose from Prescription Drugs

With the increased availability of prescription drugs and the perception that they are not as dangerous as illegal substances, an accidental overdose can happen to anybody who uses prescription medications. That is even true of people who take opioid painkillers for legitimate medical reasons.

The population in the study most likely to be hospitalized for the accidental overdose of prescription drugs was women younger than 34. The study found these women were more likely to live in urban areas and have Medicare as their primary form of insurance.

The study also determined that, in 2005, accidental overdoses surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of unintentional death among people 35 to 54 years old.

Reduce Your Risk of Accidental Prescription Drug Overdose

The best way to reduce the risk of an accidental overdose of prescription medication is to only use the medication as prescribed. Do not take any more than the recommended dose without first consulting your treating physician.

It is also important to be aware that certain prescription medications are addicting and may result in people taking more of the medication than prescribed in order to have the intended effect. If you develop an addiction to prescription drugs from taking an opioid, tranquilizer or sedative, it may be necessary for you to find a residential treatment center for prescription drug addiction to help break the addiction and learn healthy ways to cope without the use of prescription medication.

Click on the Treatment for OxyContin link above for information about how to get treatment that will make for the highest likelihood of long term sobriety.