We usually associate drug overdose with celebrities: Anna Nicole Smith, Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson, to mention the few recent. But the rate of drug overdose, also called unintentional or accidental drug poising is actually on the rise among the general population during the 20 years.
Dr. Leonard J. Paulozzi, a Medical Epidemiologist with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines unintentional drug overdose.
“A poisoning is defined as the effect of taking too much of any substance. Drug poisonings are what people usually call “drug overdoses.” They are called “unintentional” — a term that we prefer over “accidental” — when the person did not intend to harm themselves. For most drug overdoses today in the United States, the person has intended to take the drug, but that doesn’t mean that they intended to harm themselves. If they did intend to harm themselves, the overdose is classified as a suicide.”
These “accidents” often lead to deaths. In the 1970s and 1980s, less than 2 per 100,000 people died of drug overdose. The rate started increasing in the 1990s and has been continuously rising. In 2007, the rate in the US is about 10 deaths per 100,000 population, according to CDC data.
In fact, drug overdose currently ranks second only to vehicular accidents as cause of death in the US and the gap is closing rapidly. “For the first time in 2007, unintentional drug poisoning exceeds motorized vehicle traffic and suicide as the overall leading cause of injury death in Ohio.”
Health experts cannot exactly pinpoint the cause(s) of the rise in drug overdose. However, it is clear that increase in unintentional drug poisoning is not only due to illegal drugs but mainly due to non-medical use of prescription drugs, especially opioids and benzodiazepines. Availabiliy and access to prescription drugs probably plays a major role, e.g. the main source of the medications in the medicine cabinet at home. There is a very strong correlation between the number of prescriptions filled for a drug and the rate of abuse of a drug. The most commonly abused prescription drugs are those that are most commonly prescribed. An example cited is alprazolam, the most prescribed benzodiazepine also ranks first as the most commonly abused in this class of drugs.
Overdose happens regardless of age but is more prevalent in certain age groups. Looking at the age breakdown, the following age groups are ranked from the highest to the lowest risk:
- 45- to 54-year-olds
- 35- to 44-year-old range
- 25- to 34-year-olds
- 15- to 24-year-olds
- 55- to 64-year-olds
Experts, however, are concerned that the rate among teens is rapidly increasing.
According to psychiatrists Dr. Richard H. Weisler