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In the 1990s, he said, doctors began recognizing that chronic pain was undertreated. The prescribing of painkillers escalated after that. Today, about one in five U.S. adults and one in 10 adolescents are prescribed an opiate each year, he said.
"The pendulum swung in the other direction," he said.
Using death certificate data, CDC researchers counted more than 45,000 U.S. deaths nationwide from traffic accidents in 2006, and about 39,000 from drug-induced causes.
About 90 percent of those drug fatalities are sudden deaths from overdoses, but the count includes people who died from organ damage from long-term drug use or abuse.
In Massachusetts, there were more than 1,000 drug-related deaths in 2006, double the number of traffic deaths, according to the CDC. Michigan had about 500 more drug deaths than vehicle fatalities, and New York had 350 more.
Nationally, the death rate from traffic accidents fell by about 6.5 percent from 1999 through 2006 -- from 15.3 deaths per 100,000 people to 14.3 per 100,000, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The decline in road fatalities is "considered one of the great public health triumphs" of the past few decades, the CDC's Warner said.
On the Net:
CDC report: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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