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Prescription Drug Overdose

Strategies and Activities

Prevention Resources



Prescription drug overdose continues to be a major public health problem in the United States. It has caused many accidental and preventable deaths among those who use, misuse or abuse illicit and prescription opioids. In 2014, United States overdose deaths involving prescription opioid painkillers increased to about 19,000, nearly triple the number in 2001.1

The prescription drug overdose epidemic is driven by fundamental changes in the way healthcare providers prescribe opioid pain relievers. Beginning in the 1990s, providers started prescribing more opioid pain relievers in an effort to address what was, at that time, perceived to be a widespread problem of undertreated pain. As opioid pain reliever prescribing increased, overdose deaths increased as well. Today, the supply of opioid pain relievers is larger than ever.2 According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills.2


Impact on West Virginia:

Drug overdose is the leading cause of death among West Virginians under the age of 45 years, and opioids remain the leading cause of drug poisoning in the state. For every fatal poisoning there are even more non-fatal overdoses, persons abusing opioids, and persons using opioids for non-medical use.

According to the 2013 West Virginia Behavioral Health Epidemiological Profile:3

  • Discharges with a drug-related diagnosis have steadily increased from 363.7 per 10,000 discharges in 2007 to 506.5 per 10,000 discharges in 2011.
  • The number of drug violation arrests in 2011 increased over 40% from 2004.
  • More than 95% of the reports of prescription abuse received by the West Virginia Prescription Drug Abuse Quitline in 2012 were for opioids. The leading prescription drug reported to the West Virginia Prescription Drug Abuse Quitline was oxycodone (31.8%).
  • Other opiates accounted for the highest percentage of treatment admissions in West Virginia in 2010 (34.9%), which was four times higher than the national percentage (8.7%).


1 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. SAMHSA Opioid Overdose Prevention Toolkit. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4742. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013.
2 Examining the Growing Problems of Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse, House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Cong. (April 29, 2014) (testimony of Dr. Daniel Sosin, Acting Director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Print.
3 Gwilliam, M. (2013). West Virginia Behavioral Health Epidemiological Profile. Charleston, WV: West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities, Division on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.

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