Drug Overdose Death Rates Increase in 26 US States: Mismatch in Opioid Prescriptions to Blame?

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Jun 18, 2015 07:38 AM EDT

A study released Wednesday has shown that drug overdose deaths are on the rise in the United States.

The report made by nonprofit organizations Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows that there are nearly 44,000 deaths due to drug overdose in 2013, more than twice the number in 1999. More than half of the deaths came from prescription pills.

According to the researchers, West Virginia ranks the highest in drug overdose deaths with 33.5 deaths for every 100,000 people. It is followed by Kentucky with 24.6 and then Nevada with 21.6. The state with the least drug-related deaths is North Dakota with only 2.6 per 100,000.

The report also stated that deaths by drug overdose surpassed motor vehicle-related deaths in 36 states. However, injuries, homicides, suicides and traumatic brain injury remain to be the leading causes of death for Americans 50 and below.

Some experts blame prescription mismatch as the culprit for the rising opioid drug overdose.

"More than two million Americans misuse prescription drugs. The prescription drug epidemic is also contributing to an increase in heroin use," said Corrine Peek-Asa, Ph. D., M.P.H., professor from University of Iowa, as per Medscape.

According to Jeffrey Levi, Ph. D., executive director TFAH, prescription drug abuse is now a national epidemic.

"Over 10 years, the opioid prescriptions have quadrupled, but there's not a change in the overall pain that Americans had in that same period," Amber Williams, director of Safe States Alliance and peer reviewer of the report, told USA Today. "There's definitely a mismatch between the prescriptions and the health issues because the issues have remained the same."

Williams added that the drugs are used for other treatments aside from treatiing pain or cancer. This has lead to an increase in opioid prescription.

In March, U.S. health authorities issued guidelines about dependence, death, and overdose on opioid drugs. All states but one now have drug-monitoring programs to prevent prescription drug abuse and spread awareness. Missouri has their own form of prescription-monitoring program to reduce misprescribing.

There has also been an increase in the use of the drug naloxone, which can prevent opioid overdose such as Vicodin, OxyContin, and illegal substances such as heroin, according to Yahoo.

The report said that it may be difficult to quantify the lifesaving effect of naloxone, but a review from more than 180 communities in 2010 found that the drug helped counter more than 10,000 overdoses.

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