Drug Overdose Kills Over 100 Americans Every Day, Mostly from Prescription Drugs


Yesterday, August 31, was International Overdose Awareness Day. The day of awareness was initiated in 2001 by Sally J Finn at The Salvation Army in St. Kilda, Melbourne.

The goals of this International Overdose Awareness Day are:

  • To provide an opportunity for people to publicly mourn loved ones in a safe environment, some for the first time without feeling guilt or shame.
  • To include the greatest number of people in International Overdose Awareness Day events, and encourage non-denominational involvement.
  • To give community members information about the issue of fatal and non-fatal overdose.
  • To send a strong message to current and former people who use drugs that they are valued.
  • To stimulate discussion about overdose prevention and drug policy.
  • To provide basic information on the range of support services that are available.
  • To prevent and reduce drug-related harm by supporting evidence-based policy and practice.
  • To inform people around the world about the risk of overdose.

In the United States, drug overdose deaths have more than tripled since 1990. Every day more than 100 people die from drug overdoses, and most of these deaths are caused by prescription drugs.

According to the CDC, the recent surge in drug overdose death rates is a result of increasing abuse and misuse of prescription opioids and painkillers.

  • In 2010, prescription drugs killed more than 16,500 people in the U.S., more than twice as many as cocaine and heroin combined.
  • In 2011, healthcare providers prescribed more than four times as many painkillers as in 1999, and at the same time prescription painkiller deaths increased
  • roughly 20% of healthcare providers, a small percentage, are responsible for 80% of all prescription painkillers in 2010.
  • In 2012, an estimated 12.5 million Americans reported using prescription painkillers without a prescription.

The prescription drug overdose epidemic is closely tied to changes in medical prescribing practices. With the addition of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) along with other policy changes, states can work to identify and prevent inappropriate prescribing.

Policies key to battling this epidemic may include:

  • Maintain and strengthen PDMPs, including making them interoperable, which ensures providers have real-time access to PDMP data and provides unsolicited reports to prescribers, pharmacists, licensing boards, and law enforcement agencies.
  • Consider pain clinic laws that aim to prevent inappropriate prescribing of painkillers and regulate pain clinics that operate using inappropriate medical and prescribing practices.
  • Ensure that providers follow evidence-based guidelines for the safe and effective use of prescription painkillers.
  • Encourage healthcare provider licensure boards to enforce licensing standards proactively when inappropriate prescribing patterns are detected.
  • Support patient review and restriction programs, also called “lock in” programs, in public insurance plans to identify and prevent improper patient use of prescription drugs.

Additional Resources:

NCSL's Prevention of Prescription Drug Overdose and Abuse Legislative Tracking.

CDC and other federal and state agencies have resources and information available to help prevent prescription drug overdoses before they occur.

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