Opioid Related Deaths on the Rise: 70 Percent Involved Painkillers in 2011
According to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the rate of deaths related to opioid analgesic poisoning has nearly quadrupled between 1999 and 2011 from 1.4 per 100,000 people to 5.4.
While age groups, 25-34, 35-44 and 45-54 have a higher rate of opioid painkiller related deaths than any other, the greatest increase was seen for those aged 55-64, skyrocketing more than six-fold from 1 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 6.3 in 2011.
In 2011, there were 41,340 deaths due to drug poisoning and 41 percent of them involved opioid analgesics. The death rate increased 18 percent each year between 1999 through 2006, but slowed down to 3 percent each year from 2006 to 2011.
About 70 percent of the opioid analgesic related deaths in 2011 involved natural and semisynthetic painkillers such as hydrocodone, morphine and oxycodone. Between 2006 and 2011, the number of deaths due to these substances each year rose from 2,749 to 11,693.
When it comes to synthetic opioid analgesics such as methadone, those deaths increased from 784 in 1999 to 5,518 in 2007. But in 2011, the number fell to 4,418. Methadone — commonly used to treat opioid dependence and pain ¬— was involved in 26 percent of opioid analgesic related deaths in 2011, compared to 38 percent in 2007.
The number of deaths related to narcotic painkillers fentanyl, meperidine and propoxyphene increased from 730 in 1999 to 2,666 in 2011.
When it comes to benzodiazepines, sedatives used to treat anxiety, insomnia and seizures, deaths involving the drug increased an average of 14 percent annually, between 2006 and 2011. In 2011, there were 5,188 deaths involving benzodiazepines, up from 527 in 2006.
In light of this report — and other reports with similarly alarming statistics — the Big Cities Health Coalition, consisting of top public health officials from large metropolitan areas such as New York, Baltimore and Chicago, came to Capitol Hill this week to urge lawmakers to take federal action.
“Opioid addiction and overdose is a public health crisis,” said Dr. Mary Travis Bassett, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “Yet, the majority of opioid overdose deaths are entirely preventable. Changes to federal regulations are needed urgently to facilitate effective prevention, treatment and management of opioid addiction and overdose.”