CDC: Prescription Drug OD Deaths Among Middle-Aged Women on the Rise
Women are dying from prescription painkiller overdoses at rates never seen before, according to a new CDC Vital Signs. While men are more likely to die of a prescription painkiller overdose, the percentage increase in deaths since 1999 was greater among women (400% in women compared to 265% in men). Prescription painkiller overdoses killed nearly 48,000 women between 1999 and 2010.
- About 42 women die every day from a drug overdose(including those from prescription painkillers). Since 2007, more women have died from drug overdoses than from motor vehicle crashes. 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. More than 6,600 women died from a prescription painkiller overdose in 2010. This is about 18 women a day; which accounts for nearly half of all drug overdoses that happen each day among women. In 2010, there were more than 200,000 emergency department visits for opioid misuse or abuse among women; about one every three minutes.
- More than five times as many women died from prescription painkiller overdoses in 2010 as in 1999.
- Women between the ages of 25 and 54 are more likely than other age groups to go to the emergency department from prescription painkiller misuse or abuse. Women ages 45 to 54 have the highest risk of dying from a prescription painkiller overdose.
- Non-Hispanic white and American Indian or Alaska Native women have the highest risk of dying from a prescription painkiller overdose.
- Prescription painkillers are involved in 1 in 10 suicides among women.
Additionally, the prescription painkiller problem affects women in different ways than men.
- Women are more likely to have chronic pain, be prescribed prescription painkillers, be given higher doses, and use them for longer time periods than men.
- Women may become dependent on prescription painkillers more quickly than men.
- Women may be more likely than men to engage in “doctor shopping” (obtaining prescriptions from multiple prescribers).
- Abuse of prescription painkillers by pregnant women can put an infant at risk. Cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) — which is a group of problems that can occur in newborns exposed to prescription painkillers or other drugs while in the womb—grew by almost 300% in the US between 2000 and 2009.
According to the CDC, healthcare providers and women can take steps to protect against prescription painkiller overdoses. It is important that healthcare providers follow guidelines for responsible opioid prescribing (including screening and monitoring for substance abuse and mental health problems). They should also discuss all pain treatment options with their patients (including ones that do not involve prescription drugs). Women should only use prescription drugs as directed by a health care provider and should dispose of medications properly as soon as the course of treatment is done.
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