Accidental Overdose Still a Leading Cause of Young Adult Deaths

Accidental Overdose Still a Leading Cause of Young Adult Deaths

Accidental overdose claims the lives of more than 26,000 people each year in the United States, and reached record levels in 2006. In fact, death by unintentional overdose is the second leading cause of death for teenagers, and the primary cause of death for young adults in the mid-30s and mid-40s age group.

Most deaths are believed to be caused by overdosing on illegally acquired prescription medications. Escalating this distressing trend is the reality that overdoses can be prevented if patients, parents and their families have adequate information about safe storage and handling of prescription drugs.

Overall, the Center for Disease Control reports that deaths from overdosing on drugs almost doubled during a five-year span of 1994 to 2004, ranking second at that time only to fatalities from car accidents. The problem has gained heightened awareness recently, in light of the untimely death of young adult actor Heath Ledger, whose death is believed to be linked to accidental overdose of prescribed medicines.

Prevention may be the key to preventing future overdose-related deaths. Policymakers continue to call for federal support toward helping prevent overdoses, and to enable greater access to Naloxone, a drug that reverses the life-threatening effects of an overdose. Naloxone can save lives by bringing back respiration to victims who have overdosed, especially on morphine or heroine.

Additional measures are called for to assist with patient drug information, as several overdose deaths are suspected to be related to mistaken dosages on legitimately acquired prescriptions.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) — a national organization that promotes drug policies centered on safety — is working to spread a clear message about the dangers of overdose, utilizing social media like Facebook and purple ribbons. Part of the DPAs efforts are focused on getting the message to young people, who may be most susceptible to drug overdoses, especially as access to prescription drugs is on the rise.

Painkillers and sedative prescription drugs are identified by the CDC as the leading categories of overdose-related drugs. More women experienced fatalities from overdoses than men during the time span of 1994-2004, with an increase of more than 100 percent. People in the age demographic of 15 years to 24 years also showed a tremendous increase in overdose-related deaths, at 113 percent.

Interestingly, the largest concentration of overdose-related deaths occurred in rural areas instead of urban regions. These findings point to overall increasing trends for prescription drug abuse in rural communities, especially middle-income, primarily white regions.

The CDC proposes stricter measures to monitor prescription drugs, increased education for doctors and new programs to help people with prescription drug addictions. A state–managed closer look at doctors who prescribe multiple prescriptions or prescriptions that seem inappropriate is also recommended.

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