Deaths From Prescription Painkiller Overdoses Rise Sharply Among Women

Megan Charles

A US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study shows an increase of women visiting the emergency room for treatment or dying from prescription painkiller overdoses.

Prescription painkillers typically consist of opioids. An opioid is any psychoactive chemical that resembles morphine in its pharmacological, analgesic effects. Opioids are used to decrease the perception of pain, the reaction to pain; temporarily aiding in tolerance by binding to associated receptors primarily in the central and peripheral nervous systems.

They are often prescribed by doctors after surgery or to help patients with severe acute or chronic pain. If taken exactly as prescribed by medical professionals, opioids can manage pain effectively, states The problem occurs when they are abused.

Dependence – an addiction – can develop over time, which is detected after an abrupt discontinuation of medication. Abuse of opioid painkillers – like hydrocodone and oxycodone – can have several side effects including sedation, disorientation, respiratory depression, and death.

According to the CDC Vital Signs report, the number of prescription painkiller overdose deaths increased five-fold among women especially between 1999 and 2010, killing nearly 48,000.

Traditionally, men have been more likely to die as a result of prescribed painkiller overdose, but the percentage of women has since superseded those statistics – 400 percent in women compared to 265 percent in men.

On average, 42 women die daily from a drug overdose. And since 2007, more women have died from drug overdoses than from motor vehicle accidents. In 2010, 6,600 women – 18 every day – died out of the 200,000 ER visits associated with opioid overdose. More women died that year from prescribed painkillers than overdoses attributed to cocaine and heroin.

Therefore, researchers urge healthcare providers to take care when treating patients for pain management by diligently adhering to guidelines for responsible opioid prescribing, including screening and monitoring for substance abuse and mental health problems.

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