Prescription painkillers overtake car crashes as leading cause of accidental death in America

  • Follows celebrity deaths from painkillers including Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger
  • Non-medical prescription painkillers cost the U.S. economy $72.5billion a year


Prescription painkillers have topped car accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., according to a new report.

Research by the National Center for Health Statistics show that drug poisoning is now a more common way to go than being killed on the road.

It follows recent celebrity deaths from painkillers, including Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger and Anna Nicole Smith.

Michael Jackson
Heath Ledger

Pills: Michael Jackson, who died in 2009, and Heath Ledger, who died in 2008, both took prescription painkillers which have become very popular in America

Prescription painkillers are now so popular in the U.S. that there has been a spike in armed robberies at pharmacies and some chemists are refusing to stock them.

The number of robberies has surged by 82 per cent since 2006, from 385 to 701 last year, with 3,500 pharmacies targeted by those desperate to get their hands on the drugs, according to

Doctors are also struggling to keep up with the demand for the pills. One third of all Americans take two or more prescription drugs, most commonly narcotics.

Drug deathsOn the up: This graph shows how poisoning from prescription drugs has increased significantly, especially in the last decade

Without painkillers, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, minor aches and pains feel considerably worse for people addicted and withdrawal symptoms include depression, anxiety, and lethargy.


The gap in life expectancy between whites and blacks in America is now the smallest ever, according to researchers in Canada.

White men can now expect to live to 76.2 years, and black men 70.8 years. White women can expect to live to 81.2 years and black women 77.5 years.

Researchers found that HIV and heart disease contributed to the narrowing of the gap alongside an increase in the number of deaths among white people from prescription drug abuse.

Researchers at Montreal’s McGill’s University used data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other sources.

They found heart disease, diabetes, homicide, HIV and infant mortality were the main reasons for the differences in life expectancy.

After studying the data, they said more and more white people were dying ‘unintentionally’ from fatal drug poisoning, largely from opiates and other painkillers

Painkillers overtook car accidents as the leading cause of death back in 2008 but a report detailing the information has only just come out this month.

It shows that the number of people dying from the pills has tripled since 1980, while the number of car accidents has dropped by one-and-a-half times since that year.

In 2008, 41,000 Americans died from drug poisoning – 77 per cent of which were not intentional – compared to 38,000 road deaths.

Between 1999 and 2008, the poisoning death rate increased by 90 per cent, while the road deaths decreased by 15 per cent.

Meanwhile, emergency department visits for prescription painkiller abuse or misuse have doubled in the last five years to nearly 500,000 and about 12 million American teenagers and adults use prescription painkillers to get ‘high’.

Nonmedical prescription painkillers costs the U.S. economy more than $72.5billion each year.

The problem with prescription painkillers is worse in the U.S. due to a lack of regulation and a thriving black market.

Experts said there is a lack of education surrounding the drugs and misconceptions over their use and how they should be managed.

They also say pharmaceutical industry have introduced some ‘questionable practices’ in how the drugs are marketed.

Some insurers say doctors have to explain why they have prescribed certain pills that exceed a 30-day supply, according to the website, while 40 states have systems to monitor who the drugs are supplied, although many of these are voluntary.

Painkillers Problem: Experts say there’s a lack of education surrounding the drugs and misconceptions over their use and how they should be managed

Last month, it emerged that where there has been a crackdown in prescription painkillers people are turning to heroin instead.

The deadly drug is now being found in areas where previously, it hadn’t presented a problem.

New York, Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina, Illinois and Missouri have all been affected by the surge in abuse according to 2011 Justice Department statistics.

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