Drug Overdose Deaths
Illicit drug use is associated with suicide, homicide, motor-vehicle injury, HIV infection, pneumonia, violence, mental illness, and hepatitis. An estimated 3 million individuals in the United States have serious drug problems.
The mortality rates from unintentional drug overdose have risen significantly since the early 1970s, and over the past ten years have reached historic highs. Drug overdose rates are currently 4 to 5 times higher than the rates during the “black tar” heroin epidemic in the mid-1970s and more than twice what they were during the peak years of crack cocaine in the early 1990s. The drug overdose rate in 2005 was 22,400 unintentional and intentional drug overdose deaths. Further analysis showed that opioid painkillers were still the most commonly found drugs in overdose deaths, accounting for 38.2%, with methadone by itself contributing to almost half of these deaths. Benzodiazepine sedatives such as Valium® and antidepressants accounted for 6.5% drug overdose deaths. The total deaths from overdose of prescription opioids, benzodiazepines, and antidepressants (about 45%), exceeds the total of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines/amphetamines (about 39%).
The shift in the type of drugs responsible for most overdoses has changed the demographics of those dying from overdoses. Currently, people in their 40s are more likely than those in their 20s or 30s to die of a drug overdose. Drug overdose death rates of whites have passed rates for African Americans in recent years. The highest drug overdose death rates have been found to be concentrated in the more rural Appalachian states, the Southwestern states, and New England.
In 2006, a total of 38,396 persons died of drug-induced causes in the United States This includes deaths from dependent and nondependent use of legal or illegal drugs, as well as poisoning from medically prescribed and other drugs.
The latest figures from the CDC show the greatest drug overdose death increases in rural areas between 1999 and 2004. In other words, the dramatic increase in drug overdose deaths is not driven by illegal drug use in the inner cities; it is being fueled by prescription drug abuse in white, middle-class, rural America. Those with the highest increase in fatal drug overdoses were white non-Hispanic females, with an increase of 136.5 percent. The rate of increase for females was twice that of males.