Prescription Drug Epidemic Blamed for Rise in Teen Deaths by Poisoning

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The number of people ages 15 to 19 years old who died from accidental poisoning increased by 91% between 2000 and 2009, according to a new report from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The authors of the report blamed the increase on fatal doses of prescription painkillers, which are being widely abused all over the United States.

“It is tragic to see this epidemic beginning in our young people,” said Dr. Julie Gilchrist, a medical epidemiologist in the CDC’s Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention, noting that prescription painkiller and opiate abuse is now widespread among older teens.

“There seems to be a trend for prescription painkillers almost to replace marijuana as a gateway drug for substance abuse such as heroin,” she said. Many teens are experimenting first with painkillers taken from their family and friends medicine cabinets, rather than street drugs like marijuana.

CDC researchers concluded that proper prescribing, storage and disposal of prescription drugs, discouraging people to stop sharing their medications, and state-based prescription drug monitoring programs could reduce teen accidental poisoning deaths.

The CDC report found that about 50% of the most recent poisoning deaths were among teens ages 15 to 19 who overdosed on prescription drugs, with most of these deaths were due to abuse of opioid painkillers like Demerol, Percocet, and Vicodin.

This latest CDC report, like others before it, found that the number of people killed in automobile accidents continues to drop. In fact, the number of people dead by drug overdoses is now greater than those who die in car crashes.

Every year over 120,000 Americans seek emergency medical treatment because of overdoses to prescription drugs. In 2008, for example, the most recent year for which there are statistics, there were 20,044 overdose deaths from prescription drugs with 14,800 of them due to narcotic painkillers, more than heroin and cocaine combined. The CDC researchers said that prescription drug epidemic involves people from all walks of life and socioeconomic classes. Americans of all ages, genders, races, and national origins are abusing these drugs, which makes this epidemic different from those of the past.

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