More Women Overdosing on Painkillers

Opioid pain relievers have been increasingly involved with overdoses among women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Opioid painkiller use has been on the rise for a few years now. Among women in the US, overdose deaths from prescription painkillers have eclipsed all other drug overdoses.

In a recent study, CDC researchers looked at the rates of drug overdoses in women in the US.

The results of this study showed a drastic increase in opioid painkiller overdose deaths and opioid painkiller misuse and abuse visits to the ER.

The study's authors wrote that there needs to be more effort aimed at reducing these kinds of deaths.

"Reach out for help with Rx addiction."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a Vital Signs report on the rates of overdoses from prescription painkillers among women in the US.

This report was led by Karen Mack, PhD, from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, an agency of the CDC.

"In 2010, enough opioid pain relievers were sold to medicate every adult in the United States with the equivalent of a typical dose of 5 mg of hydrocodone every 4 hours for 1 month, a 300 percent increase in the sales rate over 11 years," the study authors wrote.

For this study, the researchers looked through data from the National Vital Statistics System between 1999 and 2010 and the Drug Abuse Warning Network between 2004 and 2010.

The researchers focused on drug overdoses and drug misuse- or abuse-related emergency department visits among women.

The results of the study showed that in 2010 alone, 15,323 women died from a drug overdose and 943,365 women visited the emergency room (ER) for drug misuse or abuse.

Closer inspection showed that ER visits were highest for cocaine and heroin use and abuse, followed by benzodiazepines and finally opioid painkillers.

Benzodiazepines are a class of sedative prescription medications that include alprazolam (brand name Xanax), diazepam (brand name Valium) and clonazepam (brand name Klonopin).

While ER visits were highest for cocaine and heroin, actual overdose deaths for opioid painkillers were four times the rate of deaths from cocaine and heroin combined.

Between 1999 and 2010, a total of 47,935 women died from an opioid painkiller overdose. In that same time period, the number of opioid painkiller overdoses increased 415 percent among women and 265 percent among men.

"Although more men die from drug overdoses than women, the percentage increase in deaths since 1999 is greater among women. More women have died each year from drug overdoses than from motor vehicle-related injuries since 2007," the study authors wrote.

Overdose deaths were highest among women between the ages of 45 and 54.

Native American/Alaska Native women made up 15 percent and non-Hispanic white women made up 13 percent of overdose deaths, the two highest rates of overdose deaths based on race/ethnicity.

Opioid painkillers were involved in one out of every 10 suicides among women.

The lowest rate of overdose deaths was found in North Dakota, at 3.9 out of every 100,000 women. The highest rate of overdose deaths was found in Nevada, at 18.5 out of every 100,000 women.

The study authors recommended that public health interventions work to reduce prescription medication overdoses and reduce misuse and abuse, while also safeguarding legitimate access to treatment.

The authors also recommended increased community access for women, and especially pregnant women, to substance abuse treatment programs, and increased usage of prescription monitoring programs by healthcare providers.

"Overdose deaths and emergency department visits related to prescription drugs, especially opioid pain relievers, continue to be unacceptably high, and targeted efforts are needed to reduce the number of deaths in this epidemic," the authors wrote.

This report was published in July on the CDC website.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 3, 2013
Last Updated:
July 30, 2013