Drug Overdoses Now Leading Cause of Unintentional Deaths

National Safety Council President Janet Froetscher and William J. Bennett, a well-regarded political pundit and radio host, held a media briefing shortly after the NSC Congress & Expo’s Opening Session on Sept. 22 to discuss the rising issue of drug overdoses in the United States workforce. According to the latest NSC data for 2006, death rates for unintentional poisoning have more than tripled during the past 20 years and now exceed drunk driving as the leading single cause of unintentional deaths.

The greatest increase was seen among men and women of working age (20-64). The leading cause of this increase has been attributed to abuse of prescription painkillers--primarily opioid analgesics such as oxycodone, methadone, hydrocodone, and more. Between 1993-2003, the overall increase for this age group was 107 percent. From 1992-2005, the most rapid growth of unintentional poisoning deaths was seen in the 45-64 year old age group, followed by the 25-44 year old age group, and the 15-24 year old age group. Among those 18 years old or older who used painkillers for non-medical purposes: 60 percent obtained the painkillers from a friend or relative for free, twenty percent obtained them from a doctor, nine percent bought them from a friend or relative, and 11 percent obtained them from another source.

NSC's data indicate there is a statistically significant, state-level correlation between high overall-drug-overdose fatality rates and high, overall consumption of opioid analgesics, with greatest correlations for oxycodone and methadone.

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