Deaths from prescription painkiller overdoses sharply increases among women

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by Jesse Tovar

NATIONAL -- In lieu of Wauwatosa Police Detective Robin Schumacher being charged with stealing narcotics from her station, the Center for Disease Control has just released a study showcasing a sharp rise in deaths from prescription painkiller overdoses among women.

The number of prescription painkiller overdose deaths increased five fold among women between 1999 and 2010, according to a Vital Signs report. Prescription painkiller overdoses killed nearly 48,000 women between 1999 and 2010.

"Prescription painkiller deaths have skyrocketed in women (6,600 in 2010), four times as many died from cocaine and heroin combined," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. "Stopping this epidemic in women--and men-- is everyone's business. Doctors need to be cautious about prescribing and patients about using these drugs." 

The study incorporated emergency department visits and deaths related to drug misuse/abuse and overdose, as well as analyses specific to prescription painkillers.

Some key findings from the study were:

  • About 42 women die every day from drug overdose.
  • More than 940,000 women were seen in emergency departments for drug misuse or abuse in 2010.
  • Prescription painkillers have been a major contributor to increases in drug overdose deaths among women.
  • There were four times more deaths among women from prescription drugs than from cocaine or heroin deaths combined in 2010.

Women are more likely to have chronic pain than men, be prescribed prescription painkillers, be given higher doses, and use them for longer periods of time than men.

"Health care providers can help improve the way painkillers are prescribed while making sure women have access to safe and effective pain treatment," says Linda C. Degutis, Dr. P.H., M.S.N., director of CDC's National Center for Injury and Prevention and Control.

The CDC released steps women can take to help stay safe from prescription painkiller overdoses, which include:

  • Using prescription drugs only as directed by a health care provider
  • Disposing of medications properly, as soon as the course of treatment is done. Not keeping medications around "just in case."

You can acquire help for substance abuse problems (1-800-662-HELP) or call Poison Help (1-800-222-1222) with questions regarding medicines.