A pharmacy employee looks for medication as she works to fill a prescription while working at a pharmacy in New York December 23, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
For the eleventh consecutive year, drug overdose deaths have increased according to findings released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The big picture is that this is a big problem that has gotten much worse quickly," Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Associated Press.
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In a Tuesday report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the CDC reported 38,329 drug overdose deaths nationwide in 2010. Experts say 60 percent of deaths were caused by prescription drugs and appear to be accidental. Opiod drugs, like OxyContin and Vicodin, are blamed for three out of every four medication overdose deaths.
In all, overdose deaths caused by prescription drugs in 2010 numbered at 22,134, exceeding the death toll of powerful street drugs like heroine and methamphetamine. Experts say the reason behind the high number of deaths may be caused by a mistaken perception of how addictive the drugs can be, adding that doctors and patients should consider other means when treating minor pains.
Dr. Rich Zane, chair of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, told the Associate Press the findings do not surprise him and reflect what he sees in emergency rooms. He added that the death toll since 2010 is only growing.
Others, like Don Des Jarlais, director of the chemical dependency institute at New York City's Beth Israel Medical Center, says the numbers will level off as the public learns about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
"Right now, there's a general belief that because these are pharmaceutical drugs, they're safer than street drugs like heroin," he said. "But at some point, people using these drugs are going to become more aware of the dangers."