Abstract

Eighteen medical examiners, coroners, and forensic science laboratories and offices, representing a total jurisdictional population of 52.6 million, were visited during November 1975, and more than 1200 cases occurring in the four years from 1972 through 31 July 1975 were evaluated for inclusion in the study. The sites were distributed across the United States and Ontario, Canada, and included urban and rural, states, city, and county jurisdictions. Scientific data and circumstantial information was gathered consistently for each case and site by means of five questionnaires. Finally, 1022 cases were compiled and examined, and the data were analyzed to form the body of data from which this report is written. The following conclusions may be drawn. 1. The number of deaths involving propoxyphene is increasing each year, and at a faster rate than total drug deaths. The absolute numbers and rate are different in urban and rural areas, but the frequency reached 6.0 deaths per million population in 1974. Deaths attributed to suicide as well as those determined to be accidental deaths and undetermined have increased. 2. Approximately 66% of all the cases studied had the word propoxyphene included in the cause of death statement on the death certificate. Approximately 46% of the cases were classified as suicide (64% of them female and 36% male), 26% as accidents, and 21% as undetermined. 3. The deceased were mainly middle-class, Caucasian, urban dwellers, with male and female evenly distributed. Their ages were from 20 to 50 years, with few outside this range. Female ages were uniformly distributed, but males in their early twenties were very prominent. This is different from the U.S. population age distribution, which is currently dominated by teenagers. Propoxyphene does not appear to be a pediatric problem, as seen in the study. 4. The deceased were not part of the illegal drug abuse population and had no particular propensity for the use of heroin or narcotics, but rather they were a particular medical population of those who misuse prescription drugs and alcohol. 5. The deceased did have a marked tendency to hypochondria, chronic minor illnesses and emotional problems. Some 43% had recent medical histories, and 82% had a documented psychiatric history which often included (51%) self-destructuve behavior such as suicide attempts. Almost all received a wide range of prescription drugs, particularly tranquilizers, which they often misused in the sense of self-medicating, multiple drug ingestion, and combining alcohol with their medication. Approximately 34% had a history of misusing some drug, and 20% could be defined as abusers in that they were prone to excessive use of their medications; 44% had diazepam available to them, and 17% were either problem drinkers or alcoholics.

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