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Prescription Drug Overdoses: An American Epidemic

Prescription Drug Overdoses

The United States is in the grip of an epidemic of prescription drug overdoses. Over 27,000 people died from overdoses in 2007, a number that has risen five-fold since 1990 and has never been higher. Prescription drugs are now involved in more overdose deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.

This disturbing mortality trend parallels a ten-fold increase in the medical use of opioid painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone. The increased availability of such powerful drugs has led to widespread abuse – according to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 5 million Americans misused opioid painkillers in the past month. In addition to the threat of overdose, these people face an elevated risk of injury, crime-related violence, and suicide.

For health professionals, policymakers and legislators, addressing this problem is complicated—while they push for education, prevention, and enforcement to reverse this epidemic, they must also ensure that patients with a legitimate need for these medications still have access to them. This important session of Public Health Grand Rounds addressed these challenges and explored the innovative state and federal policies and interventions that are showing promise in reducing injury and death from this epidemic.

Presented By

Grant Baldwin, PhD, MPH
Director, Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention
National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC
Presentation: Why Are Drug Overdoses a Public Health Problem?

Len Paulozzi, MD, MPH
Medical Epidemiologist, Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention
National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC
Presentation: Rationale for Prevention Strategies

Gary Franklin, MD, MPH
Medical Director
Washington State Agency Medical Directors’ Group
Presentation: Washington State Opioid Guidelines and Regulations

Gil Kerlikowske, MA
Office of National Drug Control Policy
Presentation: National Policy Approaches to the Problem

Facilitated By

Tanja Popovic, MD, PhD, Scientific Director, Public Health Grand Rounds
Shane Joiner, Communication Manager, Public Health Grand Rounds

  • Page last reviewed: February 18, 2011
  • Page last updated: February 18, 2011
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