Despite efforts by law enforcement and public health officials to curb prescription drug abuse, drug-related deaths in the U.S. have continued to rise, reports the Los Angeles Times. Figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that drug fatalities increased 3 percent in 2010, the most recent year for which complete data are available. Preliminary data for 2011 indicate the trend has continued.
The figures reflect all drug deaths, but the increase was propelled largely by prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin, according to just-released analyses by CDC researchers. The numbers were a disappointment for public health officials, who had expressed hope that educational and enforcement programs would stem the rise in fatal overdoses. “While most things are getting better in the health world, this isn’t,” said CDC director Tom Frieden. “It’s a big problem, and it’s getting worse.” Drugs overtook traffic accidents as a cause of death in the country in 2009, and the gap has continued to widen. Overdose deaths involving prescription painkillers rose to 16,651 in 2010, CDC researchers found. That was 43 percent of all fatal overdoses.