It’s An Epidemic! Prescription Painkiller Use in Women Leading to a Huge Increase in Overdose Related Deaths

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Prescription drug overdose rates are rising in women - but why? Image by fsstudio

Prescription drug overdose rates are rising in women – but why? Image by fsstudio

Why are overall prescription related deaths rising so rapidly?

And more importantly, why are the overdose rates in women skyrocketing?

Almost 48,000 women died of prescription painkiller overdoses between 1999 and 2010, according to the CDC’s report from July 2013.

During this time, deaths in women from prescription painkiller overdoses rose more than 400%, compared to 265% in their male counterparts.

Between 1992 and 2002 the US population grew only 13%, however prescriptions written for controlled substances such as painkillers grew 154% – contributing to the epidemic numbers of prescription painkiller deaths.

Pain-Killer Overdose: Why Should Women be Concerned?

Women get pregnant, nurse children, see multiple doctors, and seek more medical treatments than men.  Why is this a problem? Doctors today are more likely to prescribe narcotic pain medications, and women often have pain prescriptions from more than one prescriber. In addition, one out of 10 prescription drug deaths in women involve pain medications and ten percent of suicides in women involve prescription pain medications.

Since women’s bodies are typically smaller than those of men, women are more likely to become addicted to pain medications. Not only is addiction a problem, a dose of a medication can be fatal in a woman, where the same dose is not fatal in a man.

Pregnant women put their babies at risk using prescription painkillers. Between 2000 and 2009 Neotnatal Abstinance Syndrome (NAS) in newborns grew almost 300%. NAS is caused by the newborn’s withdrawal from the drug they were exposed to in the womb. Babies who nurse from mothers on these medications can suffer from NAS as well.

Prescription Medication: What can Women do?

First, realize that all medications, including over-the-counter medications, herbals, vitamins, and supplements can contribute to a prescription overdose. For example, the herb St. John’s Wort, an over-the-counter product many women use to self-treat depression, can increase the effects of painkillers and other medications, making a normal dose lethal.

Women must discuss everything they take, including all supplements, with your health care provider. When filling prescriptions, or just shopping for vitamins, discuss the risks vs. benefits of any prescription medication with your pharmacist, in conjunction with any over-the-counter supplements you take.

In addition, follow these simple tips:

  • Use medication only as directed, ‘just one more’ pill than prescribed can be dangerous.
  • Store medications safely in cool dry places, out of reach of small children and where teens cannot help themselves.
  • Always dispose of left over or outdated medications safely.
  • April is national drug take back month, but local law enforcement agencies have drug disposal sites year round to prevent illegal diversion of medications.

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