Deaths caused by drugs have topped traffic-related deaths, an analysis by the Los Angeles Times concludes. The rise in drug-related deaths is due in large part to an increase in overdoses from prescription narcotics. This is the first time drugs have caused more deaths than motor vehicles since the government started tracking drug deaths in 1979.
An estimated 37,485 Americans died from drug-related causes in 2009, double the rate of 10 years ago, according to the article. Traffic-related fatalities have been on the decline for decades, as auto safety continues to improve. They have decreased by more than one-third since the early 1970s, to 36,284 in 2009.
Painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs are often involved in drug-related deaths, the article notes. These drugs are now the cause of more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sergeant Steve Opferman, who heads a county task force on prescription drug-related crimes, said prescription drugs can be dangerous because people believe they are safe, since they have been prescribed by a doctor. “Younger people believe they are safer because they see their parents taking them. It doesn’t have the same stigma as using street narcotics,” he said.
Between 2000 and 2008, drug-related deaths more than doubled among teenagers and young adults, and more than tripled among people ages 50 to 69. The greatest number of drug-related deaths was among people in their 40s.