Accidental overdoses from prescription painkillers in 2010 contributed to an 11th straight year of rising deaths from drug overdoses. And the problem has likely become worse since then.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 38,329 deaths from overdoses in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week, up 4 percent from 2009.
"The big picture is that this is a big problem that has gotten much worse quickly," Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the CDC, told AP.
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Indeed, medications were linked to almost 60 percent of overdose deaths in the new report. The numbers highlight two problems with prescription medications: Doctors prescribe them too often, Frieden said, when less risky drugs would suffice, and patients don't always realize the dangers.
"Right now, there's a general belief that because these are pharmaceutical drugs, they're safer than street drugs like heroin," Don Des Jarlais, director of the chemical dependency institute at New York City's Beth Israel Medical Center, told AP. "But at some point, people using these drugs are going to become more aware of the dangers."
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The most dangerous appear to be opioid painkillers, which include OxyContin and Vicodin; they were involved in 44 percent of the deaths.
To compile the report, researchers examined a national database of death certificates. It's not always clear whether a death was an intentional suicide or an accident.
Sedatives and antidepressants also accounted for a large number of the deaths.
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