Overdose deaths up 500% since 1990?

The L.A. Times reports on non-medical use of prescription drugs:

In a study presented Tuesday, researchers surveyed approximately 10,000 U.S. adults, ages 18 to 49. They found non-medical use of stimulants occurred less frequently than non-medical use of other substances. Almost one-quarter of those surveyed said they had used prescription painkillers for non-medical uses and more than 15% had used sedatives or tranquilizers for non-medical reasons. About 9% had used prescription sleep pills, compared with about 8% of people who used stimulant medications for non-medical reasons.

It would be interesting to see the age groups stratified. I’d imagine stimulants skew toward younger people.

CNN also picks up on the story:

More than 5 million Americans misused prescription painkillers in a one-month period in 2009, according to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health from that year.

And a huge majority – more than 70% – of those prescription-drug abusers said they got the drugs from friends and relatives.

Drug overdose death rates have risen steadily in the United States since 1970.

A recent CDC report also addresses the subject:

  • In 2007, 27,658 unintentional drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States.
  • Rates [of overdose deaths] have increased roughly five-fold since 1990.

For those concerned that attempts to address the problem have hurt pain patients, the CDC shares this data point:

There has been at least a 10-fold increase in the medical use of opioid painkillers during the last 20 years because of a movement toward more aggressive management of pain.

7 thoughts on “Overdose deaths up 500% since 1990?

  1. That is terrifying. I wonder what the stats would be in the midwest – “hillbilly herion” has to factor into this equation doesn’t it.
    fyi – I am doing a poll and one of the questions is do you personally know someone who is dependent on and/or addicted to alcohol and/or drugs (legal or illegal i.e. painkillers) and so far more than 90% said yes. I should send that out to facebook but my “friends” would all say yes…


  2. This is a phenomenal increase. Have data gathering techniques become better in the period I wonder? If the price for ‘aggressive’ management of pain is tens of thousands of deaths, then maybe we need to be a little less vigorous.


    1. I don’t know if data gathering may have played a role. I can tell you that in 1994, when I started working in the field, a rx opiate addict was a fairly rare thing. When you did see one, they were typically heroin addicted and used rx opiates to supplement their habit. Today, rx opiates are the most frequently mentioned drug and they are now a path to heroin addiction.


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