Ninety percent of poisoning deaths in the United States are due to drugs, the federal government reported Tuesday. Drug poisoning deaths now outnumber traffic deaths as the leading cause of injury death in the country.
The report, from the National Center for Health Statistics, points to misuse or abuse of prescription drugs as the driver of the upward trend in poisoning deaths. The number of deaths from opioid painkillers (such as morphine, hydrocodone and oxycodone) rose from 4,000 per year in 1999 to 14,800 in 2008.
Those deaths are more common among males, people ages 45 to 54, non-Hispanic whites, American Indians or Alaska Natives than among other groups, the report said. About three-quarters of the deaths were accidental, 13% were suicides and 9% were undetermined, it said.
Overall, there were 41,000 poisoning deaths in the U.S. in 2008, the latest year for which statistics are available.
Although a concerted public-health campaign has lowered the rate of traffic fatalities over the last three decades, a similar effort may be necessary to curb the trend of poisoning deaths, the authors of the report said.
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