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Deaths from Prescription Drugs Top Car Crashes and Illegal Drugs

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In just over three decades, the number of people who have lost their lives to prescription painkillers in the U.S. has risen to a level six times higher than in 1980, prompting officials to wonder if the message about prescription drugs is really getting through. Experts are also noting in recent articles that the evidence is clear: While illegal drugs like cocaine or heroin used to be responsible for the most drug-related deaths, today the culprit is abuse of prescription drugs.

Recent research shows that during 2008, at least 41,000 fatalities in America were connected to poisoning- and 90 percent of these fatalities were linked to drug poisonings. The numbers are higher than total deaths for the year from car crashes, and move poisoning to the top place for U.S. deaths from the period of 1980 through 2008.

Opioid-based painkillers such as codeine, morphine and oxycodone account for 40 percent of the 2008 poisoning fatalities. This number has also grown, with research showing a climb of 25 percent since 1999. The CDC says that around 40 people in the U.S. lose their lives each day to abuse of prescription pain medications.

Co-occurring with several thousand of these deaths are the use of cocaine or heroin, and other illegal drugs. More men than women have lost their lives to poisonings from drugs, and typically in the mid 40s to early 50s age span.

Some of the rise in fatalities is linked to patients accidentally taking too much of a medication, or to patients mixing drugs that produce deadly side effects. Experts across the industry say patient education is more critical than ever to save lives. In some cases, lives could be saved by doctors stressing what may be overlooked truths, such as that mixing painkillers with alcohol can be deadly.

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