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Opioid Analgesics Involved In Most Pharmaceutical Overdose Deaths

“Data recently released by the show drug increased for the 11th consecutive year in 2010. , especially opioid analgesics, have driven this increase. Other are involved in deaths, but their involvement is less well characterized,” writes Christopher M. Jones, Pharm.D., of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, and colleagues.

As reported in a Research Letter, the authors used data from the multiple cause-of-death file to examine the specific drugs involved in pharmaceutical and opioid-related overdose deaths. The researchers found that in 2010, there were 38,329 drug overdose deaths in the United States; most (22,134; 57.7 percent) involved pharmaceuticals; 9,429 (24.6 percent) involved only unspecified drugs. “Of the pharmaceutical-related overdose deaths, 16,451 (74.3 percent) were unintentional, 3,780 (17.1 percent) were suicides, and 1,868 (8.4 percent) were of undetermined intent. Opioids (16,651; 75.2 percent), (6,497; 29.4 percent), antidepressants (3,889; 17.6 percent), and antiepileptic and anti-parkinsonism drugs (1,717; 7.8 percent) were the pharmaceuticals (alone or in combination with other drugs) most commonly involved in pharmaceutical overdose deaths.”

“This analysis confirms the predominant role opioid analgesics play in pharmaceutical overdose deaths, either alone or in combination with other drugs. It also, however, highlights the frequent involvement of drugs typically prescribed for mental health conditions such as benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and antipsychotics in overdose deaths. People with mental health disorders are at increased risk for heavy therapeutic use, nonmedical use, and overdose of opioids. Screening, identification, and appropriate management of such disorders is an important part of both behavioral health and chronic pain management. Tools such as prescription drug monitoring programs and electronic health records can help clinicians to identify risky medication use and inform treatment decisions, especially for opioids and benzodiazepines.”


JAMA. 2013;309[7]:657-659