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Drug Overdose Deaths Have Doubled Since 1999

America has a problem, and self-medicating will only make it worse. According to a new CDC report, drug overdose deaths have more than doubled from 1999 to 2014.  What’s happening here?

What’s Going On?

Rich Hamburg, deputy director of Trust for America’s Health– a nonprofit dedicated to bringing attention to public health policies–, thinks he has an idea. Among a medley of reasons for the unexpected increase, he says, are increased availability, and the propensity for doctors to over-prescribe.

It’s clear America has a drug problem. But America also has a different, maybe bigger problem: dealing with its drug problem. The trouble lies in how hard it is to effectively tackle every facet of the situation.

In some states, prescription monitoring may play a significant role; there are still places where it’s possible to virtually shop around for drugs, getting prescriptions from multiple doctors. An earlier CDC report showed that 259 million prescriptions were written for painkillers in 2012. That’s enough for every adult in America to have their personal bottle of pills.

In other cases, fear of liability may have a part in contributing to overdose. People who give drugs to their friends may not call for required help out of concern for their legal well-being. Offering some protection in these cases could help.

Still, other situations might have been stopped by education; many people wrongfully assume prescription drugs are “safer” than illegal narcotics because they have medical use, leading to accidental overdose. Better, more thorough educational programs may decrease death rates.

Regardless of the why something needs to be done.

The Startling Statistics

Though overdoses from some specific drugs have decreased in recent years (opiate overdoses, for example, dropped 5% from 2011 to 2012), the trend across the board is doing anything but. In 1999, the national drug overdose deaths rate was, on average, 6.1 deaths per 100,000 people. By 2012, this number had more than doubled: 13.1 deaths per 100,000 people. That’s 41,502 deaths in 2012, a number which may be even higher. The CDC did not include deaths listed as drug overdoses if the drug was not specified.

Roughly 16,000 of these deaths were from opioids or prescription painkillers. The CDC reports 46 people die every day from overdosing on prescription painkillers. The decline mentioned earlier from 2011 to 2012 is the first time in over a decade the number has dropped; indeed, from 1999 to 2006, opioid overdose deaths shot up on average 18% per year, before continuing to increase at a slower pace from 2006 to 2011. In a similar vein, heroin deaths from 1999 to 2012 nearly tripled. Overdose deaths are not exclusive to a particular drug.

What Can Be Done About Drug Overdose Deaths?

The battle against drug addiction and overdose deaths is being fought on multiple fronts. The city of Chicago, for example, is taking the war to the doorstep of Big Pharma, filing a lawsuit claiming that pharmaceutical companies have knowingly deceived consumers by advertising opioid painkillers for the management of chronic pain, despite their low success rate and high risk of addiction.

Meanwhile, the CDC recommends more stringent prescription monitoring programs, hoping this will help pinpoint problem areas where over-prescribing is commonplace. Currently, every state has such a system in place, but not all states require doctors to use it. They are also advocating for the creation of policies that would lower prescribing rates for patients deemed “risky.”

On a personal level, seeking treatment for a drug addiction is the best possible way to reduce a risk of overdose. Inpatient treatment facilities can be found in every state, and provide some added benefits over outpatient treatment or trying to quit alone. Most obvious of these advantages is the 24-hour supervision; it can be easy to relapse given even a glimmer of an opportunity, but inpatient treatment eliminates this risk. It’s also enormously helpful to have care available continuously during withdrawal and detoxification periods. Being confined to the treatment facility also helps to reduce distraction from the recovery process, making it easier to concentrate fully on combating addiction.

Coming to terms with and treating addiction on any level is not going to be a simple process. The road to recovery is neither easy nor fun, but then, neither is struggling with a drug problem– and America has one.  The best way to decrease the number of drug overdose deaths is by providing affordable, effective treatment for everyone who is struggling with addiction.

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