Using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, reporters Lisa Girion, Scott Glover and Doug Smith found that drug deaths totaled 37,485 in 2009, the last year for which the data are available. They calculated that deaths from pain and anxiety drugs have increased 284 and 256 percent, respectively, since 2000.
Prescriptions can help those who need the medicine, but can also fuel a black market of drug trafficking. The Times reports that the most commonly prescribed medication in the nation is hydrocodone, or Vicodin, which has been prescribed more than top cholesterol drugs and antibiotics. The other most commonly abused prescription drugs are OxyContin, Xanax, Soma and a newcomer to the list, Fentanyl, 100 times more powerful than morphine.
The reporters write that these drugs are now causing more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined, and their analysis found the types of people dying from overdoses constitutes a wide range: from teenagers to working men and women who become addicted after taking the medication for job-related injuries. Public health officials are using this report to call attention to the growing prescription drug abuse problem, which those officials label an epidemic. To view an interactive map illustrating the rise in drug deaths by state, click here. New Mexico topped the list, followed closely by West Virginia. (Read more)