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Prescription Painkiller Deaths Increasing More Quickly Among Women

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Deaths from prescription painkillers are rising more quickly among women than men, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Women’s deaths from the drugs have risen five-fold since 1999, according to The New York Times.

Prescription painkiller deaths are more common among white women than among black women. Older women are more likely than younger women to die from prescription painkiller overdoses. Overall, men are more likely to die of opioid overdoses: 10,020 men died of opioid overdoses in 2010, compared with 6,631 women.

Deaths from prescription opioid overdoses may be rising faster in women because they are more likely to suffer from the most common forms of chronic pain, such as fibromyalgia, the study’s authors said. Women have less body mass than men, increasing the risk of overdose.

Women are more likely to have prescriptions for antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, notes Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She told the newspaper this is significant, because people who overdose are much more likely to have taken a mix of these drugs and prescription painkillers.

The CDC report found about 18 women die every day from an overdose of prescription painkillers in the United States. In 2010, there were more than 200,000 emergency department visits for opioid misuse or abuse among women.

The agency urged health care providers to follow guidelines for responsible opioid prescribing, including screening and monitoring for substance abuse and mental health problems. “They should also discuss all pain treatment options with their patients (including ones that do not involve prescription drugs),” the authors wrote. The CDC advises women to only use prescription drugs as directed by a health care provider, and to dispose of medications properly as soon as treatment is completed.

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