CDC: Painkiller overdose deaths at epidemic levels

November 2, 2011

Washington – Fatalities caused by prescription painkiller overdoses are at national epidemic levels, causing 40 deaths per day in the United States, according to a Nov. 1 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CDC researchers analyzed painkiller overdose data from 1999 to 2008 and found that the number of overdose fatalities more than tripled in that time frame and was the cause of more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.

The agency linked the rise in fatalities to increases in prescriptions by health care providers, increased use of painkillers for non-medical use and improper disposal of unused pills. Among CDC's recommendations:

  • States should increase the number of community-based prevention programs, such as those that provide safe pill disposal for residents.
  • State agencies should set up monitoring programs to identify over-prescribing of painkillers.
  • Health care providers should screen for prior substance abuse before prescribing painkillers.
  • Individuals should follow proper medicine disposal procedures.