Drug Overdoses Responsible for More Deaths Than Car Accidents

More Americans now die from drug overdoses than in car accidents, according to a new government report released Tuesday.

In 2008, poisoning deaths became the number one cause of accidental deaths in the United States and the leading cause of injury death in 30 states, according to the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ninety percent of these poisonings were linked to drugs, with a surge in deaths from prescription painkiller overdoses reported.

“During the past three decades, the number of drug poisoning deaths has increased sixfold, from about 6,000 deaths in 1980 to over 36,500 in 2008,” said report author Margaret Warner, an injury epidemiologist at CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, who added that this trend is only expected to continue.

The authors of the report found a 90 percent increase in poisoning deaths since 1999, while deaths from car accidents have dropped 15 percent in the same period.

By 2008, nine out of every 10 poisoning deaths were due to drugs. In that year, some 77 percent of these deaths were unintentional, 13 percent were suicides and 9 percent were of undetermined intent, according to the report.

Over the last 10 years, these increases were seen among both men and women and in all age and race/ethnic groups, Warner said. In 2008, the highest rates were among males and those aged 45 to 54.

In 2008, more than 40 percent of poisoning deaths were due to opioid painkillers. That’s way up from 1999 when these drugs were involved in only 25 percent of these deaths, Warner said. “CDC has called this an epidemic,” she noted.

In 1999, there were 4,000 deaths related to painkillers, but by 2008 that number had tripled, to almost 15,000 deaths, according to the CDC.

These deaths also vary by state. Although it isn’t clear why drug deaths vary across the country, one reason might be the different laws states have for controlling the use of prescription painkillers, Warner said.

Deaths are an accurate way to get a handle on the size of the problem, because these are definitive data, Warner said.

Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, medical director of the Florida Poison Information Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said “we knew this was coming; it shouldn’t shock anybody. It’s disturbing though.”

More attention needs to be devoted to this problem, Bernstein noted. “It needs to be attacked from multiple angles and multiple levels in the way we have made headway in trauma,” he said.

“There are newer and better drugs and that’s great for treating people’s pain, but they come with a price,” Bernstein pointed out. “There is addiction and interactions with other drugs, and potential for overdose and misuse.”

The number of users and abusers of these drugs is much greater than those who die from them, Warner added. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

By 2010, 12 million Americans said they were using opioid painkillers without a prescription. In 2009, almost 500,000 emergency room visits were for abuse of these painkillers. This costs health insurance companies as much as $72 billion a year in direct costs, the CDC said in a November report.

Dr. Chris Jones, a CDC health scientist who was not involved in the latest report, said that deaths from opioid painkillers have “increased significantly over the last decade. We have also seen an increase in people who have nonfatal overdoses who are showing up in emergency departments.”

In fact, there was a 98 percent increase in emergency room visits due to these painkillers between 2004 and 2009, he said. These emergency room visits are greater than those seen for overdoses of heroin and cocaine, Jones added.

The dramatic increase in deaths and overdoses from prescription drugs is due to a vastly increased use of these drugs by doctors. “Between 1999 and 2010, the sales of these drugs increased fourfold,” he explained.

“Part of this is an attempt to better treat pain. As we have seen the medical use go up, we have also seen the abuse of these products go up,” Jones said.

This doesn’t have to be as widespread of a problem as it has become. There are plenty of alternative methods that can be used to reduce pain, including acupuncture, naturopathic manipulation, and nutritional/herbal interventions.  The data here is pretty clear-the use of prescription painkillers is seriously risky business, and puts you at a much higher risk for long-term complications, especially addiction.  Please consider all other options before agreeing to take painkillers, and consult with your local naturopathic physician for the appropriate guidance.

Anxiety, Cancer, and Music

As some of you may know, I’m an avid music lover, so I’m always excited when I see research that confirms the therapeutic benefits of music.

A new Cochrane research review shows how music can reduce anxiety, and may also have positive effects on mood, pain and quality of life.

Evidence from 1,891 patients taking part in 30 trials was examined-13 of the trials involved trained music therapists, while the other 17 trials studied patients who listened to pre-recorded music. The results showed that in comparison to standard treatments, anxiety levels were significantly reduced by music, based on clinical anxiety scores. Music was also shown to have beneficial effects for patients with chronic pain-heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure saw smaller beneficial effects.

Lead researcher Joke Bradt of the Department of Creative Arts Therapies at Drexel University in Philadelphia, US., explained

“The evidence suggests that music interventions may be useful as a complementary treatment to people with cancer.

Music interventions provided by trained music therapists as well as listening to pre-recorded music both have shown positive outcomes in this review, but at this time there is not enough evidence to determine if one intervention is more effective than the other.”

Bradt continues

“It should be noted, however, that when patients can’t be blinded to an intervention, there is an opportunity for bias when they are asked to report on subjective measures like anxiety, pain mood and quality of life.”

While additional studies may be necessary to confirm some of these findings, I would emphasize incorporating some form of musical enjoyment into your daily routine, whether you’re sick or not!

Neuropathy and Natural Medicine

Neuropathy, whether it’s diabetic or idiopathic, is often challenging to treat, with any modality. However, I do find that the combination of acupuncture and naturopathic interventions tend to be much more successful than the “standard” protocol (which usually includes gabapentin and various cocktails of prescription painkillers). A recent study from the journal Diabetes Care (2011 July 25) discovered that 600 mg/day of the nutrient alpha-lipoic acid lead to a clinically significant improvement in patients with diabetic neuropathy. Clinically, I’ve also found that other forms of neuropathy often respond well to alpha-lipoic acid therapy as well. Other treatments that help to enhance peripheral circulation and restore nutrition to damaged nerves, such as acetyl-l-carnitine, mixed bioflavonoids, and B-vitamins, can also be beneficial in the treatment of peripheral neuropathy.

It’s not uncommon for people to be kept on medications for life when trying to deal with peripheral neuropathy pain, with the resulting relief being minimal at best. If this is something you have suffered from, don’t be afraid to seek alternatives, as there is enough clinical and research evidence to support the benefits.

Chronic Back Pain

Healthnotes Newswire (December 10, 2009)–As many people know, low back pain can seriously interfere with a person’s social and work life. A recent report published in the British Medical Journal suggests that though a third of people usually recover completely within 12 months, certain factors can delay chronic low back pain recovery.

Pain and disability affect recovery time

In this study, 406 people with recent onset of chronic (defined as at least three months) low back pain were followed for one year. Participants were interviewed to determine how their conditions improved on measures of pain intensity, disability, and ability to work. Factors associated with delayed recovery of chronic low back pain included:

• Previous sick leave from work due to low back pain

• High disability levels or high pain intensity levels at the onset of chronic back pain

• Low level of education in the person with back pain

• Greater perceived risk of persistent pain from the back pain sufferer

Other studies have shown both more and less time needed for complete recovery.

Tips for dealing with chronic low back pain

As much as 30% of the adult population may suffer from chronic low back pain. Fortunately, there are important steps people can take to keep their backs healthy or speed recovery:

See a doctor. Don’t diagnose yourself. If you suffer from persistent back pain of any type see a primary care doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment recommendations. Some people may also seek the help of a chiropractic doctor for low back pain.

Follow-up. It’s so important to follow-up with your doctor after your first visit and let him or her know how you are doing. Too often, people go to their doctor initially but don’t follow-up to let them know what is and isn’t working. Some people wrongly believe they just have to live with the pain. There is much a doctor can do such as adjust medications, refer you to physical therapy or other specialists, suggest regular exercises, or recommend complementary therapies such as massage. If your pain persists, check in with your doctor.

Learn good posture. It is important to learn correct postures for sitting, standing, and lifting that help strengthen and support your back without adding strain. It’s also important to adjust standing, seating, or computer positioning in your work space to prevent or relieve back strain. Ask your employer if they have experts that can help improve your work space or working conditions to avoid injury.

Ask about exercise. While you may not be able to exercise during episodes of acute back pain, for some types of injury, exercise may help. Ask your doctor for exercise recommendations that may help relieve and prevent back pain. Your doctor may also recommend a physical therapist who can teach you exercises to strengthen your back, arms, and legs and help relieve pain.

Get plenty of sleep. Feeling tired can worsen pain of any type, so it is important to get plenty of sleep each night and to talk with your doctor if you are not sleeping well.

Complementary therapies may ease back pain. Talk with your doctor about complementary therapies that can ease back pain such as acupuncture, massage, yoga, tai chi, or relaxation exercises.

(BMJ 2009;339:b3829doi:10.1136/bmj.b3829)