The Deadliest Drug in America May Surprise You
Opioid addiction was associated with the highest risk of death when compared to alcohol and other drugs, according to a new study.
By Ian Landau
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WEDNESDAY, April 18, 2012 —For years now, a steady slew of headlines have warned about the dangers of methamphetamine addiction, with many calling meth (nicknamed "ice," "crystal," or "crank") the most dangerous drug in America.
However, according to new research from Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), when it comes to sheer deadliness, there's an even bigger threat out there than meth: opioids.
Published online April 13in the journalDrug and Alcohol Dependence, the CAMH study compares the risk of death for people dependent on various drugs: from meth and opioids to alcohol and marijuana. Data was culled from records of 800,000 Californians hospitalized for drug addiction between 1990 and 2005, and then matched to state death records.
Researchers found that among opioid addicts the risk of death was 5.71 times higher compared to healthy Californians of the same age, gender, and race. Meth addicts were the second likeliest to expire — with a death rate 4.67 times higher than their healthy peers. Rounding out the top five were those addicted to cannabis (3.85 higher), alcohol (3.83 higher), and cocaine (2.96 higher).
To be clear, the CAMH numbers are not saying that opioid addiction was the most common drug problem. As you'd probably expect, researchers found alcohol was by far the most prevalent substance responsible for hospitalizations. But compared to any other drug addiction, opioid dependence was associated with the highest number of deaths during the study time frame. In this case, opioids included both prescription painkillers and illegal narcotics, such as heroin.
So while meth has grabbed the spotlight, opioid addiction (especially to popular prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin) has quietly grown as a silent scourge. The dangers of opioids should not be ignored. As we noted in a report on painkiller addiction late last year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that narcotic pain relievers now cause more than 40 U.S. deaths aday, greater than that of heroin and cocaine combined. And while the CAMH study did not examine subjects' causes of death (that is, people may have eventually died as a result of reasons other than drug-related problems), it is yet another indication of the serious potential consequences of opioid addiction.
One of the more surprising results of the CAMH research, perhaps, was that cannabis abuse was linked to the third-highest likelihood of death. At a time when even Pat Robertson is calling for legalization of pot, and laws allowing medical use of marijuana are spreading, should the CAMH research cause us to think twice about succumbing to reefer madness?
Not necessarily. CAMH study leader Dr. Russell Callaghan says in a press release that he too was surprised at the high death rate among cannabis addicts.
Video: One Nation, Overdosed: Documentary On The Deadliest Drug Crisis In American History (Full) | MSNBC
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