The number of prescription painkiller overdose deaths increased five fold among women between 1999 and 2010, according to a Vital Signs report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While men are more likely to die of a prescription painkiller overdose, since 1999 the percentage increase in deaths was greater among women (400 percent in women compared to 265 percent in men). Prescription painkiller overdoses killed nearly 48,000 women between 1999 and 2010.

“Prescription painkiller deaths have skyrocketed in women (6,600 in 2010), four times as many as died from cocaine and heroin combined,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Stopping this epidemic in women – and men – is everyone’s business. Doctors need to be cautious about prescribing and patients about using these drugs.”

The study includes emergency department visits and deaths related to drug misuse/abuse and overdose, as well as analyses specific to prescription painkillers. The key findings include:

  • About 42 women die every day from a drug overdose.
  • Since 2007, more women have died from drug overdoses than from motor vehicle crashes.
  • Drug overdose suicide deaths accounted for 34 percent of all suicides among women compared with 8 percent among men in 2010.
  • More than 940,000 women were seen in emergency departments for drug misuse or abuse in 2010.

These startling numbers also emphasize the need for more sex based research in drug development.  Too often drugs are only tested in males, especially at the animal level, opening the door to more adverse side effects eventually reported by women.   We already know that some drugs work differently in men and women and there is a move to provide separate male/female prescribing instructions that could alleviate some misuse!!!

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