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Jun 20, 2014 10:53 AM EDT

Higher Death Rates from Prescribed Painkillers in U.S. and Canada Observed

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Deaths caused by commonly prescribed painkillers are higher than those caused by heroin and cocaine abuse combined, according to a new study by the McGill University.

Researchers said that 16, 000 deaths were recorded in 2010 which occurred due to prescribed painkillers in the U.S. alone. And around 45 people lose their lives every day due to opiate-based medications. Currently, the U.S. and Canada have taken the top two positions in per capita opioid consumption.

Nicolas King, a professor of social studies of medicine, said that the increased prescription of more opioids to patients, especially potent ones like oxycodone, is strongly connected to the higher mortality rates.

In an effort to unmask the causes of a drug epidemic that has grown four-fold since 1999, for the study, the researchers conducted a systematic review of 144 existing literature and surveyed scientific literature with reports of quantitative evidence.

"We found evidence for at least 17 different determinants of increasing opioid-related mortality, mainly, dramatically increased prescription and sales of opioids; increased use of strong, long-acting opioids like Oxycontin and methadone; combined use of opioids and other (licit and illicit) drugs and alcohol; and social and demographic factors," Nicholas King of the Biomedical Ethics Unit in the Faculty of Medicine said in a press release.

King found little evidence of relationship between Internet sales of pharmaceuticals and errors by doctors and patients. These factors are predicted to have played a significant role in the deaths.

The finding was documented in the American Journal of Public Health.

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