Fatalities from prescription drugs are widely undercounted in Texas and in many other states, obscuring a growing overdose problem that is one of the nation’s leading causes of preventable death, the Houston Chronicle reports. The Texas legislature is working on reforms to crack down on overprescribing and prescription drug dealing, which contribute to the toll. Without an accurate tally of drug deaths, lawmakers and health officials in Texas have no way to know the true impact of the prescription drug epidemic or where to target prevention and treatment programs that can save lives. Publicly, they declare that such deaths have declined.
Last summer, Dr. David Lakey, then the Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner, told a Senate committee that Texas has one of the nation’s lowest prescription drug fatality rates and that his data showed deaths had peaked in 2006. Lakey was referring only to deaths involving certain painkillers, not all prescription drugs. His report did not include information from medical examiners, who use drug screens to identify many more overdoses, found a joint investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the Austin American-Statesman. Only 622 deaths reported across Texas in 2013 were specifically blamed on opioids – mostly painkillers, based on death certificate data cited by Lakey’s department. But 798 prescription-drug related deaths were recorded by local medical examiners that year in just 17 of the state’s 254 counties.