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    U.S. deaths from Rx overdoses outnumber deaths from heroin and cocaine combined

    More Americans die from overdoses of prescription drugs than they do from heroin and cocaine combined, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

    More than 40 people die daily in the United States from overdoses involving narcotic pain relievers such as hydrocodone, methadone, oxycodone, and oxymorphone. In addition, the death toll from prescription painkillers has more than tripled in the past decade.

    In 2010, 1 in every 20 people in the United States age 12 and older reported using prescription painkillers nonmedically, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. “Just as with other public health epidemics, community-based prevention can be a proven, life-saving, and cost-effective key to breaking the trend and restoring health and well-being,” said Pamela S. Hyde, administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

    The Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act – which allows states and local communities to collect and safely dispose of unwanted prescription drugs – was recently signed into federal law, and the states can help with the overdose problem, according to the CDC.

    States should start or improve their prescription drug monitoring programs, which track all prescriptions for painkillers in the state. The states can use the drug monitoring programs, public insurance programs, and workers’ compensation data to identify cases in which painkillers are improperly prescribed. States should also pass and enforce state laws targeting prescription mills and doctor-shopping.

    However, the CDC guidelines do not go far enough, according to Jeffrey Fudin, RPh, PharmD, adjunct associate professor of pharmacy practice and pain management at the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Albany, N.Y. “The states and the federal government need to integrate a common system [to track prescription painkillers]. When a pharmacist goes to fill a prescription, each prescription would have an unique number, so we have real-time data,” Fudin said.

    An integrated federal and state system needs to be implemented, so that prescription painkillers are tracked across state lines, said Fudin. “Right now, if a patient fills a prescription in New York and sells [the pills] in Chicago, no one would know,” he said.

    Christine Blank, Contributing Editor
    Contributing Editor Christine Blank is a freelance writer based in Florida.

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