New Study Tracks Epidemic of Prescription Opioid Overdose Deaths in New York City
April 18, 2013
Fatal overdoses from prescription opioids are an epidemic in the United States, and a new NIDA-funded study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence shows the startling explosion of this crisis in one metro area, New York City. Between 1990 and 2006, the fatality rate from prescription opioids increased seven-fold, from .39 per 100,000 persons to 2.7. Drugs classed as prescription opioids in this study include both typical analgesics (such as Oxycontin) and methadone (used in the treatment of dependence on other opioids such as heroin and also prescribed for pain), but the increase in the rate of drug overdose over the 16 years of the study was driven entirely by overdoses of typical analgesics. Over the same time period, methadone overdoses remained stable, and overdoses from heroin declined. Whites were more likely than Blacks and Latinos to overdose on these analgesics, and deaths mostly occurred in neighborhoods with lower rates of poverty, suggesting differential access to doctors who can write painkiller prescriptions may be a driving force behind the racial disparity. The authors of the study recommend greater regulation over marketing, sales, and prescribing of potent opioid analgesics to address this crisis.