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Prescription drug deaths outnumber heroin and cocaine combined

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Staff writer ▼ | October 10, 2013
Prescription drugs"Prescription Drug Abuse: Strategies to Stop the Epidemic" finds that 28 states and Washington, D.C. scored six or less out of 10 possible indicators of promising strategies to help curb prescription drug abuse.


Two states, New Mexico and Vermont, got the highest score, receiving all 10 possible indicators, while South Dakota scored the lowest with two out of 10.

According to the report, prescription drug abuse has quickly become a top public health concern, as the number of drug overdose deaths - a majority of which are from prescription drugs - doubled in 29 states since 1999. The rates quadrupled in four of these states and tripled in 10 more of these states.

Prescription drug related deaths now outnumber those from heroin and cocaine combined, and drug overdose deaths exceed motor vehicle-related deaths in 29 states and Washington, D.C. Misuse and abuse of prescription drugs costs the country an estimated $53.4 billion a year in lost productivity, medical costs and criminal justice costs, and currently only one in 10 Americans with a substance abuse disorder receives treatment.

Appalachia and Southwest Have the Highest Overdose Death Rates. West Virginia had the highest number of drug overdose deaths, at 28.9 per every 100,000 people - a 605 percent increase from 1999, when the rate was only 4.1 per every 100,000. North Dakota had the lowest rate at 3.4 per every 100,000 people. Rates are lowest in the Midwestern states.

Just over one-third of states (17 and Washington, D.C.) have a law in place to expand access to, and use of naloxone - a prescription drug that can be effective in counteracting an overdose - by lay administrators.

Fewer than half of states (22) have laws that require or recommend education for doctor and other healthcare providers who prescribe prescription pain medication.

While nearly every state (49) has a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) to help identify "doctor shoppers," problem prescribers and individuals in need of treatment, these programs vary dramatically in funding, use and capabilities. For instance, only 16 states require medical providers to use PMDPs.

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