Prescribing us to Death

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In the USA, an epidemic is causing 60% of injury deaths and doctors in that country are facilitating it. Alarmingly, deaths from prescription opioids, particularly Oxycodone and Fentanyl, are now considered epidemic according to the CDC (Center for Disease Control). ‘Prescription drug’ means you can’t obtain the drug unless a doctor prescribes it.

In Australia, overdoses of (prescription) benzodiazepines, for example Valium, are now the leading cause of drug induced deaths. Opioid induced deaths are number two. Illicit drugs such as Ice, Ecstasy and Amphetamines come in at number three. Interestingly, caffeine is lumped in with that group too.

So why are doctors handing out lethal toxins like candy, and why the increase in the last decade? In recent years there has been a shift in the age profile of drug induced deaths from a younger demographic to people age 45 to 60. Women aged 45 to 49 had the highest rate of drug induced deaths in 2016. It’s thought there is a correlation between number of prescriptions and social and health issues such as an aging population, increase survival rates of chronic illness such as cancer, and living with chronic pain. Polypharmacy, or intake of multiple prescription drugs, is another huge issue, and it is barely being addressed by the National Drug Strategy.

Despite the large numbers of benzo induced deaths, the National Drug Strategy has not identified misuse of benzodiazepines as a priority area of focus (not on it’s own). You can also be high as a kite while driving under the influence of benzodiazepines and not be tested by mobile drug testing. While overdosing of benzos tends to involve alcohol or illicit drugs in 96% of cases, the National Drug Strategy is heavily focussed on alcohol, tobacco and illicit psycho-stimulant drugs.

The following chart shows a comparison of Drug induced Deaths in 1999, 2007, and 2016. No explanation is available for the significant drop in numbers in 2007.

Drug Induced Deaths by drug type, 1999, 2007, 2016 (a)(b)(c)

Cause of Death and ICD-10 code(a) Common terms assigned to ICD-10 category
1999
2007
2016
Proportion
(2016) %
Median
Age (2016)
no.
rank
no.
rank
no.
rank

All Drug induced deaths
1819
n/a
1,193
n/a
1,808
n/a
n/a
45.3
Benzodiazepines (T424) Alprazolam, Diazepam, Oxazepam, Clonazepam, Clozapine, Temazepam, Oxazepam
503
2
354
1
663
1
36.7%
44.6
Other opioids (T402) Oxycodone, Codeine, Oxycodone
678
1
292
2
550
2
30.4%
46.0
Psychostimulants with abuse potential (T436) Amphetamine, Ecstasy, MDA, MDMA, Speed, Methamphetamine, Ice, Caffeine
76
11
93
9
363
3
20.1%
39.4
Heroin (T401) Heroin, 6/3 Monoacetylmorphine
441
3
127
6
361
4
20.0%
41.2
Other and unspecified antidepressants (T432) Sertraline, Citalopram, Venlafaxine, Fluoxetine, Mirtazepine, Fluvoxamine, Paroxetine, Duloxetine, Bupropion
124
9
172
3
276
5
15.3%
48.1
Other synthetic narcotics (T404) Fentanyl, Tramadol, Pethidine
68
12
19
19
234
6
12.9%
41.3
Alcohol, unspecified (T519) Alcohol
252
4
132
4
222
7
12.3%
47.4
Other and unspecified antipsychotics and neuroleptics (T435) Quetiapine, Olanzapine, Antipsychotic, Risperidone
28
17
51
13
220
8
12.2%
45.2
Methadone (T403) Methodone
131
7
129
5
208
9
11.5%
43.2
4-Aminophenol derivatives (T391) Paracetamol
110
10
82
10
170
10
9.4%
50.5

(a) All causes of death data from 2006 onward are subject to a revisions process – once data for a reference year are ‘final’, they are no longer revised. Affected data in this table are: 1999 and 2007 (final), 2016 (preliminary). See Explanatory Notes 55-58 in this publication. See also Causes of Death Revisions, 2012 and 2013 (Technical Note) in Causes of Death, Australia, 2014 (cat. no. 3303.0).
(b) See Explanatory Notes 72-101 for further information on specific issues related to interpreting time-series and 2016 data
(c) Deaths registered on Norfolk Island from 1 July 2016 are included in this publication for the first time, see Explanatory Notes 12-15

Source:  3303.0 – Causes of Death, Australia, 2016 Australian Bureau of Statistics

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The Mind Centre was a counselling and meditation centre for several years before morphing into an information centre for people seeking to know more about mind and body health.

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