In a study published in the May issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers came to a surprising conclusion: hospitalizations for poisoning by prescription medication has increased by 65 percent from 1999 to 2006. The rates of unintentional poisoning– from prescription opioids, sedatives and tranquilizers in the U.S. has surpassed motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of unintentional injury death.
Simply put, this means that poisoning from prescription drugs is now the second leading cause of unintentional injury death in the U.S.
“Deaths and hospitalizations associated with prescription drug misuse have reached epidemic proportions,” said the study’s lead author, Jeffrey H. Coben, MD, of the West Virginia University School of Medicine. “It is essential that health care providers, pharmacists, insurance providers, state and federal agencies, and the general public all work together to address this crisis. Prescription medications are just as powerful and dangerous as other notorious street drugs, and we need to ensure people are aware of these dangers and that treatment services are available for those with substance abuse problems.”
Dr. Coben states that while the data shows a fast-growing problem, there’s an urgent need for more in-depth research on these hospitalizations. The study was able determine whether the poisonings were diagnosed as intentional, unintentional or undetermined. While the majority of hospitalized poisonings are classified as unintentional, notable increases were also shown for intentional overdoses associated with these drugs, most likely reflecting their widespread availability in community settings.