Prescription painkiller overdoses in women was five times higher in 2010 than in 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Tuesday.
About 48,000 women have died from painkiller overdoses between 1999 and 2010, an increase of 400 percent over the period. In 2010, that amounted to about 18 women every day. About half of all women's overdose deaths were due to prescription painkillers. In comparison, painkiller overdoses rose 265 percent among men.
In 2010, more than 6,600 women died from prescription painkiller overdose, which is four times the number of women who died from cocaine and heroin overdoses combined, the CDC says. Most of these deaths are accidental. The death rate was highest among women ages 45 to 54.
"These are really troubling numbers," CDC director Tom Frieden told reporters, noting that the deaths are "skyrocketing... at rates we have never seen before."
As of 2007, drug overdoses killed more women than car crashes, the CDC report found.
According to the report, medical experts attribute the dramatic rise among women on several issues. Firstly, women have smaller body mass than men, so the gap between a therapeutic dose and a dangerous dose is narrower. Some studies have found that women are more likely to have chronic pain. Women are also more likely to be given higher doses of painkillers, and more likely than men to use them for a long time.
Health care providers should "recognize that women can be at risk for prescription painkiller overdose. It's not just a problem among men," Frieden said.
Patients should take prescription drugs only as directed by their health care provider, and discuss all the medications they are taking with their doctor. Because taking opioids during pregnancy can cause the baby to be born with a drug addiction, women should speak with their doctor about their pregnancy plans before taking the medications.
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