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Drug deaths in King County continue to go up

In the King County Medical Examiner's report on 2004 deaths, the one number that's jumped is the drug deaths, fueled in large part by prescription painkillers // .

According to the medical examiner's annual report on deaths in King County, Statistics indicate that deaths from overdoses of prescription opiates such as methadone and oxycodone are still on the rise, says Dr. Richard Harruff, the chief medical examiner of King County.

Cocaine, morphine and alcohol were the leading killers, claiming 93, 80 and 72 lives respectively.

For the first time, the report detailed deaths caused by an overdose of methadone, methamphetamine or oxycodone (OxyContin, a powerful prescription pain medication, is a time-released form of oxycodone).

Accidental drug overdoses accounted for 211 deaths in 2004, compared with 159 in 2003, according to the report. Those deaths made up 40 percent of all accidental deaths last year, excluding traffic accidents.

In 67 other drug-related deaths in 2004, 41 were suicides; in the remainder of the cases, death investigators couldn't determine if an overdose was intentional, the report says.

Heroin overdoses peaked in 1998 with 151 deaths. That same year, 20 people fatally overdosed on methadone and six on oxycodone. The three drugs are the most common opiates, with methadone and oxycodone most often prescribed for chronic pain relief, Harruff said.

In 2004, there were 80 heroin deaths, 66 methadone deaths and 32 oxycodone deaths; the previous year, 75 people fatally overdosed on heroine, 51 on methadone and 17 on oxycodone, Harruff said.

Between January and September of this year, 63 people fatally overdosed on methadone and 25 on oxycodone, Harruff said.

“The statistics show that it’s its getting out of hand. The soaring rate of oxycodone and methadone fatal overdoses has markedly increased and it's recognized nationwide." said an official.

Since Septem ber, death investigators have been collecting more information on fatal prescription-drug overdoses and are working with University of Washington researchers on a short-term study that will be presented to the county's Board of Health next year.


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