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Accidental Overdose: America’s Leading Cause of Death is Accidental Prescription Overdose

September 2nd, 2014

There was once a time when death by motor vehicle was the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, but those days are long gone. For several years the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have released their annual statistics on accidental death with the list topped by poisoning, and the most common poison cited is prescription painkillers.


Oxycontin, Vicodin and other prescribed narcotics are causing an epidemic of accidental death, and have far surpassed illegal drugs such as heroin or cocaine in their deadly effect. Yet physicians in the United States continue to prescribe the pills, even as the news is filled with stories of celebrity overdoses, increased robberies of pharmacies, and teens raiding their parents and grandparents’ medicine cabinets for unused stores of leftover painkillers.


Though some may think that the reason that drug overdoses have surpassed car accidents is an increase in automobile safety or a reduction in drunk driving, the facts speak instead to a dramatic upswing in poisonings, with the number of deaths tripling in the last thirty years, and increasing 90% in the last ten.  Of those deaths, over 75 percent were deemed accidental. And despite the rise in those numbers, little seems to be able to prevent it from continuing. Physicians are prescribing pain killers nearly automatically, and once a patient begins to rely on them for pain relief, it becomes very difficult for them to stop. Withdrawal can range from depression and lack of energy to exaggerated feelings of pain that can be excruciating. Those who become addicted are so driven to get more drugs that they often act irrationally. As a result, many pharmacies have stopped stocking the drugs out of fear of armed robberies.


Experts blame the epidemic of painkiller overuse on physicians, who they say do not have adequate education on how to manage addictive medications, or how to help patients stop taking them. Some insurance companies are taking matters into their own hands by restricting the number of pills that can be prescribed to an individual patient and requiring justification for anything beyond a 30-day supply, and some states have implemented monitoring programs, but most of them are voluntary and not well communicated to physicians.


Safety advocates say that the problem can be blamed on America’s over-reliance on prescription medication in general. European countries do not write anywhere near the number of prescriptions that are written in the United States, and there are strict policies in place regarding prescribing opioid drugs. As a result, addiction rates in those countries are down. It seems hard to believe that a similar system could be put in place in the United States.

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Gavin P. Lentz, Esq.
Bochetto & Lentz

Gavin Lentz (right) was selected as a "Super Lawyer" for 2006-2009 and 2010-2015 in New Jersey by Philadelphia Magazine. He has also been selected as a "Super Lawyer" by Philadelphia Magazine and the Legal Intelligencer in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 - 2015.

On September 16, 2002 Mr. Lentz was selected as one of the top 50 lawyers in Pennsylvania by the Legal Intelligencer.

He has made many television appearances, including on Fox News, The Today Show, Inside Edition, and The Phil Donahue Show.

Mr. Lentz is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association and the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

As a former prosecutor, he knows how to aggressively go after large pharmacy chains to prove the facts necessary to protect your loved one's rights.

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