Washington residents are dying from unintended drug poisoning in numbers beginning to approach deaths in car crashes, and overdose deaths blamed on legal drugs now exceed fatal overdoses caused by illicit drugs, the Spokane Spokesman-Review reported Feb. 4th 2008.
Prescription-drug overdoses have increased 800 percent in Washington between 1995, when 45 overdose deaths were reported, to 2004, when 411 state residents died from overdoses on drugs like hydrocodone and methadone. “Prescription drug overdose deaths have been climbing through the roof,” said Jennifer Sabel, an epidemiologist at the Washington Department of Health. “Even doctors don’t really realize the magnitude of the deaths.”
In nearby Idaho, drug poisonings rose from 32 in 2000 to 62 in 2004. Some victims died because they misused patches containing powerful painkillers like Fentanyl, while others suffered from a toxic mix of prescription painkillers and alcohol or over-the-counter medications like Benadryl. “Users may be lulled into thinking prescription medications are safe as opposed to ‘street drugs,’ ” said Spokane County Medical Examiner Sally Aiken.
Overall opiate-related deaths in Washington rose from 260 in 1995 to 555 in 2004; auto crashes kill about 650 residents in the state each year. Mentions of prescription opiates on death certificates has risen even as involvement of illicit drugs like heroin have fallen by a third during the same period.
The trend is echoed by research conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which found that mentions of narcotic painkillers on death certificates rose 91 percent between 1999 and 2002. “This is a national problem,” said Dr. Gary Franklin, medical director for Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries.