Fatal Prescription Painkiller Overdoses Rising Faster Among Women

A CDC study found they rose 400 percent among women from 1999 to 2010 compared with 265 percent among men.

The most surprising finding in a new Vital Signs report from CDC is that since 2007, more American women have died from drug overdoses than from motor vehicle crashes. The report summarizes a study that found the number of prescription painkiller fatal overdoses rose 400 percent among women from 1999 to 2010 compared with 265 percent among men. Drug overdose deaths also accounted for 34 percent of all suicides among women but only 8 percent among men.

CDC reported prescription painkiller overdoses killed nearly 48,000 women between 1999 and 2010, the period analyzed in this study. "Prescription painkiller deaths have skyrocketed in women -- 6,600 in 2010, four times as many as died from cocaine and heroin combined," CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, said in a news release. "Stopping this epidemic in women and men is everyone's business. Doctors need to be cautious about prescribing and patients about using these drugs."

CDC analyzed data from the National Vital Statistics System (1999-2010) and the Drug Abuse Warning Network public use file (2004-2010) to calculate the numbers. Its release says previous research has shown women are more likely to have chronic pain, be prescribed prescription painkillers, be given higher doses, use them for longer time periods than men, and to engage in "doctor shopping" to obtain painkillers.

"The prescription painkiller problem affects women in different ways than men, and all health care providers treating women should be aware of this," said Linda C. Degutis, Dr.P.H., MSN, director of CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. "Health care providers can help improve the way painkillers are prescribed while making sure women have access to safe and effective pain treatment."

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