According to newly released figures, drug-related deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in the U.S., with the rise driven by an increase in prescription narcotic overdoses.
Government data showed there were more deaths caused by drug use than there were motor vehicle fatalities in 2009. There were at least 37,485 drug-related fatalities that year, according to preliminary data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Most major causes of preventable death are in decline, however drugs were an exception. The death toll from drugs has doubled in the past decade, with one life lost every 14 minutes. Traffic accidents, however, have been dropping for decades due to investments in auto safety, the report said. The figures represent the first time drugs have outnumbered traffic incidents as a cause of death since the government began tracking drug-induced deaths in 1979.
“The problem is right here under our noses in our medicine cabinets,” Laz Salinas, a sheriff's commander in Santa Barbara, said. The rise in deaths is largely due to the growing popularity of powerful prescription pain and anxiety drugs, which are often highly addictive and dangerous when combined with other drugs or alcohol. Prescription drugs now account for more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.
Combined with alcohol and other drugs, these combination can lead to dangerous situations. Oxycontin, Vicodin, Xanax, and Soma are among the most highly abused drugs. Most recently, Fentanyl is emerging as a painkiller found in drug overdoses. Fentanyl comes in the form of patches and lollipops, and Fentanyl is 100 times more powerful than morphine.
Overdose victims range in age and circumstance, but they all become addicted. Some people seek help for their addiction, but many die after failed attempts at rehab or after continued attempts to quit.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Opferman said, “People feel they are safer with prescription drugs because you get them from a pharmacy and they are prescribed by a doctor. Younger people believe they are safer because they see their parents taking them. It doesn’t have the same stigma as using street narcotics.”