Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Health & Parenting

Font Size

CDC: Unintentional Poisoning Deaths Leap

Painkiller Overdoses Causing Huge Numbers of Deaths
WebMD Health News

March 25, 2004 -- The poisoning death rate in the U.S. increased 56% in the past decade. The majority of these -- 63% -- were unintentional deaths, with most caused by painkiller overdose, a new CDC study shows.

The national report shows results of a 11-state study -- involving Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin -- from 1990 to 2001.

In all those states -- except Massachusetts and Utah -- there were increases in unintentional poisoning deaths. These unintentional deaths jumped 145% overall -- largely because of the increase in painkiller overdoses, the study shows.

"Among U.S. adults, drug overdoses are the largest cause of poisoning deaths," writes researcher Catherine Sanford, PhD, with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

More than one-half -- 51% -- of poisoning deaths involved OxyContin and other prescription painkillers as well as other illicit drugs: 15% involved cocaine, 8% alcohol, 7% heroin, 5% antidepressants, 5% benzodiazepines, and 5% methadone.

These states had the largest increases in poisoning deaths:

  • Florida: 325%
  • Kentucky: 252%
  • Massachusetts: 228%

Other patterns:

  • Women had twice the increased deaths as men: 203% compared to 126%.
  • Adults aged 65 and under had the highest death rates: 359% in 45 to 54 year olds; 195% in 35 to 44 year olds.
  • Adults aged 65 and over had a 28% decline in poisoning deaths.
  • Death rates began increasing during 1991-1992 in Colorado (125%), Massachusetts (228%), and Washington (108%).
  • Death rates in Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina (80%), and Wisconsin (123%) were stable from 1990 to 1996 - but they increased after 1996.
  • Death rates increased substantially from 1990 to 1996, but declined afterward in these states: Delaware (186%), New Mexico (105%), Oregon (28%), and Utah (183%).

"Unintentional drug overdose deaths are often caused by the misuse of multiple drugs," Sanford writes. Therefore, it is difficult to determine how each drug contributed to the death. Nevertheless, abuse of prescription painkillers, such as OxyContin, is a big part of the problem, she adds.


Today on WebMD

Girl holding up card with BMI written
Is your child at a healthy weight?
toddler climbing
What happens in your child’s second year.
father and son with laundry basket
Get your kids to help around the house.
boy frowning at brocolli
Tips for dealing with mealtime mayhem
mother and daughter talking
child brushing his teeth
Sipping hot tea
Young woman holding lip at dentists office
6-Week Challenges
Want to know more?
Chill Out and Charge Up Challenge – How to help your tribe de-stress and energize.
Spark Change Challenge - Ready for a healthy change? Get some major motivation.
I have read and agreed to WebMD's Privacy Policy.
Enter cell phone number
- -
Entering your cell phone number and pressing submit indicates you agree to receive text messages from WebMD related to this challenge. WebMD is utilizing a 3rd party vendor, CellTrust, to provide the messages. You can opt out at any time.
Standard text rates apply
Which Vaccines Do Adults Need
rl with friends
tissue box
Child with adhd