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Are the Benefits of Prescription Drugs Large Enough to Excuse Overdose Deaths?

Photo: xcorex

That is the question I found myself asking while looking at a new Centers for Disease Control report that analyzes drug-overdose deaths in Florida from 2003-2009. I am guessing the answer is a resounding yes, but it’s probably a question worth asking. During that period, the death rate for prescription drugs rose 84.2 percent, from 7.3 to 13.4 per 100,000 people. (Note that these numbers represent unintentional deaths, not suicides — although when you’re talking about death by drugs, the intention isn’t always clear.) Interestingly, the death rate from illicit drugs — primarily heroin and cocaine — has fallen 21.4 percent, to 3.4 per 100,000 people.
That makes the rate of death by prescription overdose nearly 4 times that of illicit drugs — and a lot more people use prescriptions than cocaine or heroin. Meanwhile, the overdose rate from alcohol has risen 81.4 percent over the same period, to 2.8 per 100,000. This is a complex issue of course but it is interesting to me that illicit drug-related deaths fell so much, as alcohol and prescription drug-related deaths both increased substantially.