The big public health story you may have missed. It’s prescription overdose deaths. As the Raleigh News & Observer reports:
Most notably, deaths due to motor vehicle accidents in North Carolina have declined steadily over the past decade, from 1,573 in 2001 to 1,210 in 2011. During that same time, deaths due to unintentional poisoning – 92 percent of which are drug overdoses – have grown from 437 to 1,140 statewide.
The uptick in overdose deaths roughly coincides with a shift in the American Medical Society’s philosophy of pain management in about 2009, said Scott Proescholdbell, investigator of the Violent Death Reporting System for the state Division of Public Health.
“There has since been a greater emphasis on relieving pain for patients,” Proescholdbell said. “The pendulum swung from not treating pain to treating it with medication.”
Almost all of the overdose deaths recorded involved opiate-derived drugs such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, commonly given for pain relief, said Mike Lancaster, behavior health program director for N.C. Community Care, a statewide network of physicians providing care to low-income residents.
“People may think because they’re taking a prescription drug it’s safer, but it doesn’t take that much to cause respiratory depression and death,” Lancaster said.
And that would be a bad, often fatal, assumption.