How common are prescription painkiller overdoses?

Although many types of prescription drugs are abused, there is currently a growing epidemic of prescription painkiller overdoses. Nearly three out of four prescription drug overdoses are caused by painkillers—also called opioid pain relievers. The unprecedented rise in overdose deaths in the US parallels a four-fold increase since 1999 in the sale of these strong painkillers. These drugs were involved in 14,800 overdose deaths in 2008, more than cocaine and heroin combined.

The misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers was responsible for more than 475,000 emergency department visits in 2009, a number that nearly doubled in just five years.

More than 12 million people reported using prescription painkillers non-medically in 2010, that is, using them without a prescription or for the feeling they cause.

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