The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported in 2007, there were approximately 27,000 unintentional drug overdose deaths in the United States, which was one death every 19 minutes. Prescription drug abuse is now recognized as the fastest growing drug problem in the United States. In recent years the increase in unintentional drug overdose death rates has been driven by increased use of a class of prescription drugs called opioid analgesics. Science Daily has reported on Feb. 3, 2013, Prescription Overdose Rate Reaches Epidemic Levels in NYC.
According to latest research at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, over a 16-year period the rate of drug overdose from prescription opioids has increased seven-fold in New York City and has been concentrated especially among white residents of the city. The study has been one of the earliest and most comprehensive analyses which shows how the opioid epidemic has affected an urban area. The researchers found that the increase in the rate of drug overdose was driven entirely by analgesic overdoses, which were 2.7 per 100,000 persons in 2006, or seven times higher than in 1990. In the meantime, methadone overdoses remained stable, and heroin overdoses declined.
It was found that whites were much more likely to overdose on analgesics than blacks or Hispanics. In 2006, the fatality rate among white males was found to be almost two times higher than the rate among Latinos and three times higher than the rate among blacks. The deaths were seen mostly in neighborhoods with high-income inequality but lower than average rates of poverty. Magdalena Cerdá, DrPH, the lead author on the study, has said, "A possible reason for the concentration of fatalities among whites is that this group is more likely to have access to a doctor who can write prescriptions." Over the past 20 years, prescription drug overdoses have risen dramatically in the U. S. By 2006, overdose fatalities exceeded the number of suicides by 2006, and they exceeded the number of motor vehicle deaths by 2009.