April 6, 2010 -- More people are landing in the hospital because of
poisoning from prescription tranquilizers, sedatives, and opioids, a new study
Hospitalizations for such poisonings increased 65% between 1999 and 2006.
That’s double the increase in hospitalizations for poisoning by other drugs and
substances, researchers say. The study appears in the April issue of the
American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Opioids can produce a feeling of euphoria, leading to their recreational
use. Tranquilizers and sedatives reduce tension and anxiety and can induce
“Deaths and hospitalizations associated with prescription drug misuse have
reached epidemic proportions,” study author Jeffrey H. Coben, MD, of West
Virginia University School of Medicine, says in a news release. Prescription
drugs, he says, "are just as powerful and dangerous as other notorious
street drugs, and we need to ensure people are aware of these dangers and that
treatment services are available for those with substance abuse problems.”
Coben says the largest increase in the number of hospitalized cases over the
seven-year period involved poisonings by benzodiazepines, and the largest
percentage increase was observed for methadone, at 400%, the authors write.
Unintentional Poisoning From Medications on the Rise
The study says that:
Unintentional poisoning is now the second leading cause of unintentional
injury death in the U.S.
In 2005, unintentional poisoning surpassed motor vehicle crashes as the
leading cause of unintentional injury death for people 35 to 54.
Unintentional poisoning deaths have been on the rise for more than 15
Intentional poisonings from prescription opioids, sedatives, and
tranquilizers rose 130% during the seven-year period, compared to 53% in
intentional poisonings from other substances.
The largest increase in the number of hospitalizations was caused by
benzodiazepines. Hospitalizations from that class of drug increased 39% during
the period studied.
Hospitalizations for poisoning by barbiturates decreased 41% and
hospitalizations for poisoning by antidepressants decreased 13%.
Hospitalizations for poisoning by other drugs, medicinal, and biological
substances increased 33%.
Unintentional poisonings by other substances increased 21%.
Unintentional drug-poisoning deaths increased 68% between 1999 and 2004,
and the majority of the increase has been attributed to deaths associated with
Researchers examined statistics from a database known as the Nationwide
Inpatient Sample, which contains records for 8 million hospitalizations a
By using standard diagnosis codes, they say they were able to classify the
specific types of drugs in each case. Also, they say it was possible to
determine whether poisonings were diagnosed as intentional, unintentional, or
Coben says more research is needed on what he describes as a wave of
injuries and deaths.
“It is essential that health care providers, pharmacists, insurance
providers, state and federal agencies, and the general public all work together
to address this crisis,” he says.