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Overdoses are injuries too
  1. Leonard J Paulozzi
  1. Dr L J Paulozzi, Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4770 Buford Highway NE, MS-K63, Atlanta, GA 30341, USA; lbp4{at}

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Drug overdose should be treated as an injury to which prevention strategies should be applied

In 2002, poisoning passed falls to move into second place behind motor vehicles in the league table of causes of fatal unintentional injury in the USA.1 Unintentional drug overdose mortality rose by 68% between 1999 and 2004.2 In 2004, almost 21 000 people died from unintentional poisoning in the USA. Almost all these deaths were due to acute overdoses of illegal drugs and legal drugs that were being abused. Drug-related deaths are also a major cause of death among young people in Europe and Australia.34 Despite the significance of the drug overdose problem worldwide, many injury prevention professionals working in public health do not consider overdoses to be injuries. Why they do not and why we all should are questions that deserve comment.

It is easy to find evidence that drug overdoses are unpopular subjects for study or intervention by injury professionals. Index Medicus reveals that to date Injury Prevention has published only one article with the word “overdose” or the phrase “drug poisoning” in its title or abstract. A search of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention flagship publication, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (, accessed 16 Jan 2007), uncovered only 53 citations using the word “overdose” since 1982. In contrast, a search for “lead poisoning” in MMWR returned 1531 references. Scanning the 53 articles mentioning overdose reveals that overdoses are not …

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  • Competing interests: None.

  • The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.