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U.S. Drug-Related Deaths Outnumber Traffic Fatalities

Drug-related deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in the U.S., with the rise driven by an increase in prescription narcotic overdoses, The Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

Government data showed there were more deaths caused by drug use than there were motor vehicle fatalities in 2009. There were at least 37,485 drug-related fatalities that year, according to preliminary data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most major causes of preventable death are in decline, the newspaper reported, however drugs were an exception.

The death toll from drugs has doubled in the past decade, with one life lost every 14 minutes. Traffic accidents, however, have been dropping for decades due to investments in auto safety, the report said.

The figures represent the first time drugs have outnumbered traffic incidents as a cause of death since the government began tracking drug-induced deaths in 1979.

The rise in deaths is largely due to the growing popularity of powerful prescription pain and anxiety drugs, which are often highly addictive and dangerous when combined with other drugs or alcohol. Prescription drugs now account for more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.

"The problem is right here under our noses in our medicine cabinets," Laz Salinas, a sheriff's commander in Santa Barbara, told the newspaper.