Health/Science
1:52 pm
Tue July 2, 2013

Overdose Deaths From Prescription Painkillers Are Soaring Among Women

The number of prescription painkiller overdose deaths in women increased 400 percent between 1999 and 2010, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.

CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden says he’s never seen such a big increase. It’s nearly double the rise in overdose deaths among men during that time.

“The increase in opiate overdoses and opiate overdose deaths is directly proportional to the increase in prescribing of painkillers,” Frieden said during a conference call on the latest statistics.  “Opioids or narcotic pain relievers such as Vicodin, OxyContin or Opana and methodone are increasing to an extent that we would not have anticipated and that could not possibly be clinically indicated.”  

The CDC’s Vital Signs report also revealed:

  • About 18 women a day died of prescription painkiller overdoses in 2010 – a total of 6,600 – nearly twice the rate of cervical cancer.
  • For every woman who dies of a painkiller overdose, 30 go to the emergency room for treatment.
  • More people die or go to the emergency department from prescription opiates than from heroin and cocaine combined.
  • Women are more likely to have chronic pain and are more likely to be prescribed painkillers at higher doses and for longer.
  • The overdose death rate is highest among women between the ages of 45 and 54.

The CDC called on doctors to understand the risk of prescribing addictive painkillers, monitor their use by patients and consider alternative treatments. Frieden says painkillers are being overprescribed.

“There is nothing in the epidemiology of pain conditions in our society that suggests there is anything like this increase in painful conditions or this kind of gap between the need for palliative pain relief in situations like chronic cancer pain or severe, acute pain that cannot be controlled by other means that would justify that kind of an increase in prescription opiate use.”