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


Home / It’s An Epidemic! Prescription Painkiller Use in Women Leading to a Huge Increase in Overdose Related Deaths
The abuse of prescription drugs affects our economy as well. Image by kwod

The abuse of prescription drugs affects our economy as well. Image by kwod

Pain Medications are a Problem: Why?

The abuse of pain medications costs US consumers $72.5 billion annually.

In 2007, pain relievers had the 2nd highest dependence rate in the US, according to the Federal Government’s 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), following only marijuana.

Accidental drug overdoses are the second leading cause of accidental deaths, behind only motor vehicle crashes.

Drug diversion, or the use of prescription drugs for recreational use, costs health insurers up to $72.5 billion a year.

This includes the insurance claims for the medications, as well as the more massive cost involved in treating patients who develop medical problems and require treatment because of their prescription abuse. In 2005 nearly 600,000 of the 1.4 million drug-related emergency room visits involved prescription narcotic pain medications.

In 1990 consumers paid 56% of the cost of their prescriptions.  Today consumers only pay an average of 20% of the cost of their prescription medications, which means insurance companies are footing more of the bill. How do they pay for it? They raise everyone’s insurance premiums to cover the additional costs.

Changes At the Drug Store

With the increase in prescriptions written to treat pain, and the increasing number of deaths from these medications, the pharmacy is also experiencing changes.  According the DEA’s Office of Diversion and Control, 37 states current have Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) and require information on any controlled substance prescription filled to be recorded in the database. Both doctors prescribing these medications, and pharmacists filling them are encouraged to look at the patient’s PDMP profile to ensure he or she is not in danger of an overdose, is not doctor shopping, and is not filling multiple prescriptions for the same type of medications. Eleven more states have passed legislation to establish PDMPs.

In an interview with Decoded Science, Kristin M. Smith, PharmD, a Pharmacist in Charge for a retail pharmacy in Indiana, discussed prescription painkillers and the number of deaths in women, saying “This is a true epidemic in my area.” When asked how doctors and pharmacists can work to solve this problem she said, “Pharmacists are at the forefront and have a huge opportunity to counsel and educate the patients. We, as pharmacists, should focus on patient safety as the number one priority.”

Prescription Medication Overdose and Abuse Awareness

Both medical professionals and patients need to be aware of this growing problem. Doctors should evaluate every patient for signs of dependence before prescribing prescription pain killers, and explore other options for treating the cause of the pain. Patients need to educate themselves on what they are putting into their body. What are the side effects? How do other medications interact with their new medication? Pharmacists should counsel patients every time they dispense a prescription pain medication on how often to take their medication, the dangers of taking too many, too close together, and ensure no other medication will interact with the painkiller.

Take charge of your healthcare and know what you are putting in your body.


Aldworth, Jeremy. Results from the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings. Accessed July 20, 2013.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Vital Signs: Overdoses of Prescription Opioid Pain Relievers and Other Drugs Among Women. (2013). United States 1999-2010.

CDC Vital Signs. Prescription Painkiller Overdoses: A growing epidemic, especially among women. (2013). Accessed July 20, 2013.

Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. News release: Nation Must Close Large Gaps and Better Coordinate Fighting Prescription-Drug Abuse. (2013).  Accessed July 20, 2013.

Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. Prescription for Peril. Executive Summary. Accessed July 20, 2013.

US Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, Office of Diversion Control. State Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs: Questions & Answers. Accessed July 20, 2013.

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