Drug Poisoning Deaths Exceed Car Crash Deaths: First Time in 30 Years

Mr. Fromson is a Partner with Finkelstein & Partners, LLP, and he handles pharmaceutical litigation.

Earlier this  month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported statistics that over 41,000 people died as a result of poisoning in 2008. The CDC researched data during the past three decades and revealed that “the poisoning death rate per 100,000 population nearly tripled from 4.8 in 1980 to 13.5 in 2008, while the motor vehicle traffic death rate decreased by almost one-half from 22.9 in 1980 to 12.5 in 2008.”  By 2008, poisoning was the leading cause of injury death in 30 states, including New York.  The five states with the highest poisoning death rates were New Mexico, West Virginia, Alaska, Nevada, and Utah.  The CDC’s report revealed that in 43 states, over 80% of poisoning deaths were caused by drugs. These data are obviously troubling, and signal an increase in injury from not only non-prescription (illegal) drug use, but also from prescription drug ingestion.  Data reflected that drug poisoning deaths from taking pain pills increased sevenfold in about a decade.   In this regard, the CDC reported that the majority of drug poisoning deaths involved “natural and semi-synthetic opioid analgesics such as morphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone.” While government agencies and civic organizations have strived to implement comprehensive educational programs to reduce car crash injuries, it is imperative that we achieve similar success in educating patients about the proper use of their prescription medications. Key findings of the study included the following: (1) Poisoning became the leading cause of injury death in the U.S. in 2008, and nearly 9 out of 10 poisoning deaths are caused by drugs; (2) the number of drug poisoning deaths increased sixfold from 1980 to 2008; (3) in the last decade, drug poisoning deaths involving pain medication more than tripled; (4) pain medications were involved in more than 40% of all drug poisoning deaths in 2008 — in increase of about 25% from 1999; (5) the drug poisoning death rate was higher for males, people aged 45-54 years, and non-Hispanic white and American Indian or Alaska Native persons than for females and and those in other age and racial and ethnic groups.  Read the study at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db81.pdf.