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The researchers launched their research to better understand why people overdose on narcotics, a class of medications that includes illegal drugs like heroin along with prescription painkillers like Percocet and Oxycontin. Such overdoses can end in death.
Study author Michael Yokell, medical student at Stanford University School of Medicine, and his colleagues reached their conclusion by analyzing tens of thousands of reports of narcotic overdoses from a sample of nationwide emergency room visits from 2010.
Almost 68 percent of the overdoses involved prescription drugs. That number may be higher since the drugs were unspecified in 13 percent of cases, and multiple narcotics were involved in 3 percent of cases in the study. Heroin alone was responsible for 16 percent of the overdoses.
Narcotic overdoses were most likely to happen in urban areas (84 percent) and the South (40 percent of the total). Most were in women; 1.4 percent of the total patients in the study died.
"Opioid [narcotic] overdose exacts a significant financial and health care utilization burden on the U.S. health care system. Most patients in our sample overdosed on prescription opioids, suggesting that further efforts to stem the prescription opioid overdose epidemic are urgently needed," the researchers wrote.
The study is published online Oct. 27 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
-- Randy Dotinga
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SOURCE: JAMA Internal Medicine, news release, Oct. 27, 2014