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What can stop the incessant rise of prescription-drug overdoses?

by AirTalk®

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A man in Boulder, Colorado is taken by paramedics on December 11, 2009 after taking more than 25 vicodin pain killers the night before. The CDC reports that a growing number of intentional and accidental deaths are caused by prescription medication. John Moore/Getty Images

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) yesterday published a report that shows a steady rise in drug overdose deaths in the United States. The report states that nearly 17,000 people died from drug overdoses in 1999; in 2010 the number was almost 39,000.  That's a 127% increase over the past 11 years.

Almost half of those deaths were due to opioid analgesics, such as OxyContin and Vicodin. Anti-anxiety medications including Valium were also common causes of overdose deaths.

Why have overdose deaths risen so significantly? The CDC speculates that many doctors and patients don’t realize pain management drugs can be addicting and that many deaths result from mismanagement of multiple prescription medications. California is one of the states that has an electronic database designed to monitor prescription drug use, with an eye to catching both pill-pushing doctors and doctor-shopping patients.  

But is it being utilized, and if so, is it effective enough? Is the public well-informed about prescription drug abuse and overdosing? What are the signs of drug abuse? What are health care professionals and the federal government doing to prevent this trend from continuing?

Natalie Strand, M.D., Assistant Professor of Clinical Anesthesiology, USC Pain Management, Department of Anesthesiology, Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California

Lynn Webster, M.D., co-founder and Chief Medical Director of Lifetree Clinical Research and president-elect of the American Academy of Pain Medicine

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