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Prescription Drugs Blamed for Rising Overdose Deaths

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Unintentional poisoning deaths rose from 12,186 in 1999 to 20,950 in 2004, and the increase is largely being attributed to overdoses on prescription drugs, the Los Angeles Times reported Jan. 26.

Ninety-five percent of unintentional poisoning deaths are drug overdoses; in recent years, prescription-drug overdoses have overtaken cocaine and heroin overdoses as the leading cause of poisoning deaths, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said. In fact, a recent spike in prescription-drug overdoses is the cause of the first increase in the nation's injury death rate in 25 years, according to CDC injury-prevention expert Len Paulozzi.

Most overdose deaths are due to opioid painkillers like oxycodone, fentanyl, and methadone. But other prescription drugs also can cause fatal overdoses, such as sleeping pills, antidepressants, and tranquilizers. Overdoses from the latter group of drugs increased 84 percent between 1999 and 2004, the CDC said.

Overall, sales of prescription drugs have increased almost 500 percent since 1990.

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