Live

Watch CBSN Live

Painkiller Fatalities Now Worse Than Deaths From Car Accidents and Booze

U.S. deaths from painkillers such as OxyContin and oxycodone more than tripled from 1999 to 2007, to 14,459 per year, according to the British Medical Journal, highlighting America's bizarre, silent, and increasingly serious prescription pill epidemic. Pill deaths are now more common than deaths from multiple myeloma, HIV, and alcoholic liver disease. Total deaths from prescription drugs also exceed traffic accidents, according to the CDC, killing at least 37,485 people nationwide.

OxyContin contains all kinds of warnings about addiction in its prescribing information, but the addiction rate has been underplayed, according to BMJ study author Irfan Dhalla:

For many years the pharmaceutical companies and experts suggested that the risk for addiction was less than 1%. Dr. Dhalla said.

"That's the number you will see in a lot of papers in the 1990s, and even in the early 2000s. But in fact, we know that the risk of addiction for patients who are being treated for chronic pain for several months or longer is much higher -- one recent study found that the risk was 35%. So addiction is a much bigger problem than physicians think it is," he said.

Those are the stats. Here's the effect of oxycodone on people's lives:
That's just a smattering from the last few weeks. You can spend hours reading local news web sites' coverage of the crime, death and assorted mayhem that comes with oxycodone. The DrugCite database of adverse events recorded by the FDA is like a chamber of horrors when it comes to OxyContin the brand:
  • Fatal outcomes: 913
  • Death: 1057
  • Suicidal ideation: 636
And oxycodone the generic:
  • Completed suicide: 798
  • Fatal outcomes: 380
  • Death: 317
  • Overdose: 301
(DrugCite suggests that some of these records overlap.)

Authorities are waking up. In Los Angeles, four pill mills were raided by sheriff's officers who arrested on man allegedly in possession of 2,000 oxy pills.

In Florida, long a center of the nation's illegal painkiller trade, success has so far been mixed. Sales are down but deaths are up -- to 1,516 last year -- following the formation of Gov. Rick Scott's task force against pill mills. It's personal for Scott, his brother is a lifelong oxy addict, he said recently. It's also financial: He made his fortune as the founder of a chain of pill mills.

Related:

Image by Be.futureproof, CC.