Prescription drug deaths soar among women, CDC reports

Eighteen women a day die of a prescription drug overdose in the United States, five times more than a decade earlier, the federal government reported Tuesday.

Prescription drug overdoses are on the rise in females across the country, according to the 11-year study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though men are still likelier than women to die of a prescription drug overdose, the number of women dying from too many prescription drugs rose 400 percent between 1999 and 2010, the study found.

Drug abuse is a likelier cause of death for women than motor vehicle crashes, the study found. And painkillers are a leading factor, killing four times as many women in 2010 than cocaine and heroin combined.

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In 2010 in Massachusetts, 1,553 people died of drug overdoses—501 were women, the study found. The rate of overdose deaths for women in the state was roughly comparable to the national rate of 9.8 deaths per 100,000 women.

Researchers on this and past studies found that women are particularly at risk for prescription drug abuse for a few reasons:

1. Women go “doctor shopping.” Females are less likely than men to settle for the first doctor they find, and may shop around until they find a doctor willing to prescribe them painkillers.

2. Women are more likely to experience chronic pain. This may be because hormones play a role in sustained periods of pain.

3. Women get prescribed painkillers for longer periods of time than men.

4. Women are more likely to use prescription drugs in suicide. The study found in 2010, 34 percent of women’s suicides were caused by painkiller overdoses, compared with only 8 percent of men’s suicides.

“Stopping this epidemic in women – and men – is everyone’s business. Doctors need to be cautious about prescribing and patients about using these drugs,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Friedan in a statement.

And that means women should take care when taking prescription drugs—the report implores all drug users to follow doctor-specified directions and never to keep extra drugs lying around the house when the treatment cycle is up.