(NaturalNews) Both accidental and intentional prescription drug overdoses are on the rise in the United States, according to a study conducted by researchers from West Virginia University.
"People have seen the headlines related to Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith and they think that's tragic but maybe contained to Hollywood," researcher Jeffrey H. Coben said. "But the fact of the matter is we are seeing, across the country, very significant increases in serious overdoses associated with these prescription drugs."
The researchers reviewed medical records on drug-related hospitalization in the U.S. Nationwide Inpatient Sample, which contains information on more than eight million patients. They found that between 1999 and 2006, the number of people hospitalized for overdoses of opioid painkillers, sedatives and tranquilizers increased by 65 percent, from 43,000 to 71,000. This was nearly twice the increase seen in poisonings by other drugs.
The most common victims of both intentional and unintentional opiate, sedative and tranquilizer overdose were women between the ages of 35 and 54 living in urban areas.
Accidental poisonings increased by 37 percent, in contrast with a 21 percent increase in unintentional overdoses of other drugs. Intentional poisonings with the same drugs increased by 140 percent, from 10,000 to 24,000. In contrast, intentional poisoning by other drugs increased only 53 percent.
"Unintentional poisoning is now the second leading cause of unintentional injury death in the U.S.," the researchers wrote, surpassing even car crashes among people aged 35 to 54.
Researchers say it is hard to point to any one cause of the increase.
"There is not any single cause," said Coben. "There is increasing availability of powerful prescription drugs in the community and attitudes toward their use tend to be different than attitudes toward using other drugs, especially among young people, who report that prescription drugs are easy to obtain, and they think they are less addictive and less dangerous than street drugs like heroin and cocaine."