Doctor on shifting causes of death: 'Automobile era' to the 'pharmaceutical era'

Dr. Jeanmarie Perrone, whose specialties are emergency medicine and toxicology, said in an interview last week that we have changed eras when it comes to causes of death.

"For the 30 years, where auto accidents were the leading cause of death, we were in the automobile era," Perrone said in her office after a shift in the emergency room at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. "We are now in the pharmaceutical era in the United States."

Perrone is a member of an U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee that is scheduled to meet Jan. 24-25 to discuss a request from the Drug Enforcement Administration to shift the painkiller hydrocodone from a Class III drug to Class II, which has more restrictions.

In a story in Sunday's Inquirer, Perrone spoke of the epidemic of deaths due to overdoses of prescription opioid painkillers. A link to the story is here.

As for the death stats, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's issued a report on the 10 leading causes of injury deaths by age group for 2010.

"Unintentional poisoning" and "suicide poisoning," combined to cause 39,640 deaths in all age groups. That was 5,953 more people than died in car crashes ("Unintentional MV Traffic").

And, as Perrone pointed out in the Inquirer story, it was not just young painkiller addicts accidentally killing themselves.

In the 25-34, 35-44, 45-54 and 55-64 age groups, the deaths by unintentional poisoning exceeded the auto crash deaths, even without the suicides. The 45-54 age group had most deaths of the four groups, with 9,662.

In the 15-24 age group, unintentional poisoning was the third-leading cause of death (3,183), after car accidents (7,024) and homicides by gunfire (3,889).

Perrone lamented the societal trend toward more medication.

"We are medicating ADD. We are medicating every behavior you can possibly have," Perrone said. "It is doctors and pharmaceutical companies and society interwoven and then it becomes patient expectation. With direct-to-consumer advertising, patients have a sense for what they want and it is time consuming to talk patients out of things."

A link to the CDC injury-death chart for 2010, based on data from the National Center for Health Statistics, is here.

In 2009 Current TV produced a documentary on the painkiller pill mills in Florida called "The OxyContin Express." The video is about 50 minutes. A link is here.