Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Policy Impact Report: Prescription Painkiller Overdoses

This new report provides an excellent overview of the scope of prescription painkiller abuse in the U.S. The report provides an overview of:

  • The role of prescription painkillers in prescription painkiller overdoses and deaths
  • How prescription painkiller deaths occur
  • Where the drugs come from and who is most at risk
  • Where overdose deaths are the highest
  • CDC recommendations to prevent prescription drug overdose including the role of:
    • Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs
    • Patient review and restriction programs
    • Health care provider accountability
    • Laws to prevent prescription drug abuse and diversion
    • Better access to substance abuse treatment

Key statistics include:

  • The quantity of prescription painkillers sold to pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors’ offices was 4 times larger in 2010 than in 1999.
  • Enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for one month.
  • Most prescription painkillers are prescribed by primary care and internal medicine doctors and dentists, not specialists. Roughly 20% of prescribers prescribe 80% of all prescription painkillers.
  • The drug overdose epidemic is most severe in the Southwest and Appalachian region, and rates vary substantially between states. The highest drug overdose death rates in 2008 were found in New Mexico and West Virginia, which had rates nearly five times that of the state with the lowest rate, Nebraska.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – December 19, 2011


  1. says

    I think that the CDC reports merit closer scrutiny from an evidence-based perspective to assess their accuracy, bias, and fair balance. For example, their data on opioid-related deaths are biased by the fact that there is presently no clear, forensic definition of a death that is “caused” by an opioid agent as opposed to the drug merely being present at the time of death. Many other aspects of the CDC reports could/should be similarly questioned. Futhermore, their use of terms like “painkillers” in reference to analgesic “pain relievers” is unfortunate, and is reminiscent of when “killer drug” was being used in headlines to denigrate methadone. The addiction treatment community should be very concerned by such slanted data and language coming from government agencies.

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