DYING FOR RELIEF | A TIMES INVESTIGATION
Legal drugs, deadly outcomes | read entire article here
BY SCOTT GLOVER, LISA GIRION
November 11, 2012
Prescription overdoses kill more people than heroin and cocaine.
An L.A. Times review of coroners’ records finds that drugs prescribed by a small number of doctors caused or contributed to a disproportionate number of deaths.
Prescription drug overdoses now claim more lives than heroin and cocaine combined, fueling a doubling of drug-related deaths in the United States over the last decade.
Health and law enforcement officials seeking to curb the epidemic have focused on how OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax and other potent pain and anxiety medications are obtained illegally, such as through pharmacy robberies or when teenagers raid their parents’ medicine cabinets. Authorities have failed to recognize how often people overdose on medications prescribed for them by their doctors.
A Los Angeles Times investigation has found that in nearly half of the accidental deaths from prescription drugs in four Southern California counties, the deceased had a doctor’s prescription for at least one drug that caused or contributed to the death.
Reporters identified a total of 3,733 deaths from prescription drugs from 2006 through 2011 in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura and San Diego counties.
An examination of coroners’ records found that:
- In 1,762 of those cases — 47% — drugs for which the deceased had a prescription were the sole cause or a contributing cause of death.
- A small cadre of doctors was associated with a disproportionate number of those fatal overdoses. Seventy-one — 0.1% of all practicing doctors in the four counties — wrote prescriptions for drugs that caused or contributed to 298 deaths. That is 17% of the total linked to doctors’ prescriptions.
- Each of those 71 physicians prescribed drugs to three or more patients who died.
- Four of the doctors — including Vu — had 10 or more patients who fatally overdosed.
- Vu had the highest total: 16.
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