Medical Professional Publications

Nearly 2,000 People Daily Are Treated for Drug-Related Poisonings in the U.S.

Over the past decade, drug-related poisonings have been on the rise in the United States. In fact, in many states drug-related poisoning deaths have now surpassed motor vehicle crash fatalities to become the leading cause of injury death. While the fatalities from this epidemic have been well reported, they are only the tip of the iceberg.

A new study by researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) examined emergency department (ED) visits for drug-related poisonings and found that in just one year (2007) in the U.S., there were approximately 700,000 ED visits costing nearly $1.4 billion in ED charges alone. This equates to an average of 1,900 drug-related ED visits and $3.8 million in ED charges each and every day in this country.

“The magnitude of these findings is staggering,” said Gary Smith, MD, DrPH, senior author of the study and CIRP director. “The number and cost of drug-related poisonings identified in this study indicate a public health emergency that requires a decisive and coordinated response at national, state and local levels.”

According to the study, appearing in the March 2011 issue of the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, poisoning by antidepressants and tranquilizers (24 percent) and poisoning by pain and fever control medicines (23 percent) were responsible for almost half of ED visits for drug-related poisoning. Among cases involving antidepressants and tranquilizers, 52 percent were suicidal poisonings and 30 percent were unintentional poisonings. In comparison, 41 percent of poisonings by pain and fever control medicines were suicidal and 40 percent were unintentional.

“The current epidemic of drug-related poisonings has a new face,” said Dr. Smith. “Unlike epidemics in the past involving illegal drugs, such as heroin and crack cocaine, misuse of prescription drugs, especially opioid pain medications, is now the cause of an unprecedented number of emergency department visits and deaths. Our study also demonstrated that the rate of ED visits for drug-related poisoning is three times higher in rural areas than in non-rural areas.”

Also of concern was the study’s finding that children 5 years and younger had a higher rate of ED visits for unintentional drug-related poisonings than all other age groups.

Did You Know?
Between 1997 and 2005, the sale of Methadone increased by 933 percent in the United States.  The sales of Oxycodone increased by 588 percent.

Xiang Y, Zhao W, Xiang H, Smith GA. ED visits for drug-related poisoning in the United States, 2007. Am J Emerg Med. 2011 Feb 28. [Epub ahead of print]

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