Preventable Deaths on the Rise: Growing Numbers of Overdoses, Suicides and Brain Injuries Have Lawmakers Searching for Solutions

By Hendrikson, Hollie | State Legislatures, December 2013 | Go to article overview

Preventable Deaths on the Rise: Growing Numbers of Overdoses, Suicides and Brain Injuries Have Lawmakers Searching for Solutions


Hendrikson, Hollie, State Legislatures


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Sharp increases in the number of suicides, prescription drug overdoses and traumatic brain injuries in recent years have caught lawmakers' attention. In fact, traumatic injuries and violence kill more Americans under age 45 than do cancer, heart disease, hypertension and influenza combined, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data indicate. Prescription drug overdoses, brain injuries and suicides are "certainly three of our key priorities right now," says Pam Sagness, substance abuse administrator with the North Dakota Department of Human Services.

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Adds Senator Ted Lieu (D) of California: "Opioid abuse is now an epidemic in this country--that's the label the CDC gives it. More Americans now die from prescription drug overdoses than they do from heroin and cocaine combined."

Lieu is joined by legislators around the nation investigating and trying a number of programs to control these growing public health concerns.

Prescription Painkillers

Deaths from prescription drugs have reached epidemic levels in the past decade. According to the CDC, 105 Americans die from prescription drugs overdoses, mainly painkillers such as oxycodone (Vicodin) and hydrocodone (OxyContin).That's more than 38,000 deaths annually--up more than threefold since 1990.

In 2010, enough painkillers were prescribed to medicate every American adult for a month. The same year, about 12 million Hollie Hendrikson tracks policy related to injury and violence prevention for NCSL.

Americans (age 12 or older) reported using prescription painkillers without a medical reason.

Almost all drugs involved in overdoses originally come from legitimate prescriptions, but many make their way to addicts and others seeking the drugs' euphoric effects. Over time, an abuser may need to take larger doses to get the same high and to reduce withdrawal symptoms. But the danger increases with the size of the dose. Larger doses can slow breathing and ultimately stop it, resulting in death.

This year, lawmakers in 22 states passed at least 30 laws aimed at preventing prescription chug abuse and overdose, many of which beefed up prescription drug monitoring programs. Others established regulations for pain management clinics.

Promising policy options that have not yet been proven effective to prevent overdose deaths, but are accepted by the scientific community as a good step toward prevention, include:

* Maintaining and strengthening prescription drug monitoring programs by ensuring providers have real-time access to data, and providing unsolicited reports to prescribers, pharmacists, licensing boards and law enforcement agencies.

* Ensuring that providers follow evidence-based guidelines for safe and effective use of prescription painkillers.

* Setting regulations to prevent pain management clinics from prescribing inappropriately.

* Monitoring prescription claims information in state benefits programs such as Medicaid or workers' compensation for signs of inappropriate prescribing and use of controlled prescription drugs.

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Traumatic Brain Injuries

Traumatic brain injuries--lone or in combination with other injuries--resulted in 2. …

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