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Poisoning is top cause of injury-related death

Poisoning, primarily by drugs, kills more people than car accidents, making it the nation's biggest injury-related cause of death, according to a report by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Nationwide, 13.3 people per 100,000 died from poisoning between 2007 and 2009, compared with 12.4 from motor-vehicle accidents during the same period, the report found.

More than 90 percent of unintentional poisoning deaths in 2007 were caused by drugs and medicine, the report said.

The report identified a new set of injury threats, including concussions in school sports, bullying, auto accidents while texting, falls by aging baby boomers and a "dramatic, fast rise in prescription drug abuse." Sales of prescription painkillers and related deaths have tripled since 1999, it said.

"Motor-vehicle accidents are more dramatic and get more coverage, but poisoning happens every day," said Jeff Levi, who heads the Washington-based trust. "As we've seen poisoning from prescription drugs reach epidemic levels, it's time to raise it on the radar screen."

From Washington to Maine, states have passed or are considering laws designed to better regulate prescription drugs. Deaths from prescribed pain relievers have exceeded the number caused by cocaine and heroin combined, the report said.

Forty-eight states have implemented, or have pending, programs meant to track prescriptions to keep buyers from visiting multiple doctors to get the same drug.

Last month, New Mexico, which has the highest poisoning death rate and injury-related fatality rate in the United States, made available online to providers its database tracking prescriptions. It's also expanding a program created for heroin users to help pharmaceutical-drug addicts, Michael Landen, deputy state epidemiologist, said in a telephone interview.