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Oxycodone Linked to Rise in Opioid-Related Deaths

Most cases are due to 'inadvertent toxicity,' Canadian study finds

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 9, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- In the Canadian province of Ontario, painkiller abuse appears to have boosted the number of deaths from the drug known as oxycodone.

A new study finds that deaths from the use of opioids have doubled since 1991, and the research links greater use of the painkiller oxycodone, also known as OxyContin, to a fivefold increase in deaths related to the drug. Most of the deaths were accidental.

In the study, published in the Dec. 8 issue of CMAJ, Dr. Irfan Dhalla of the department of medicine at the University of Toronto and colleagues analyzed prescription records from 1991 to 2007 from an agency that tracks information from about two-thirds of Canadian pharmacies. They also looked at coroner death records between 1991 and 2004.

The researchers found that prescriptions for opioid painkillers grew by 29 percent; codeine was prescribed the most, although the total number of prescriptions for it actually went down during the study period.

Meanwhile, oxycodone prescriptions rose by more than 850 percent and accounted for more than 32 percent of opioids prescribed in 2006, the study authors noted.

"The rise in opioid-related deaths was due in large part to inadvertent toxicity," Dhalla's team wrote. "There was no significant increase in the number of deaths from suicide involving opioids over the study period."

More information

Learn more about OxyContin from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

SOURCE: CMAJ, news release, Dec. 7, 2009
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