The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) has published a new survey showing that prescription painkiller overdoses have increased sharply among women since 1999.  Specifically, the CDC found that deaths from prescription painkiller overdoses among women have increased more than 400% since 1999, compared to 265% among men.  This rise relates to the increased prescribing of these drugs during the past decade.  Prescription painkillers include opioids such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percoset.  The CDC’s survey also found that:

  • More than 5 times as many women died from prescription painkiller overdoses in 2010 as in 1999.
  • Women between the ages of 25 and 54 are more likely than other age groups to go to the emergency department from prescription painkiller misuse or abuse.  Women ages 45 to 54 have the highest risk of dying from a prescription painkiller overdose.
  • Non-Hispanic White and American Indian or Alaska Native women have the highest risk of dying from a prescription painkiller overdose.
  • Prescription painkillers are involved in 1 in 10 suicides among women.

The CDC study also gave these possible reasons to explain the increase:

  • Women are more likely to have chronic pain, be prescribed prescription painkillers, be given higher doses, and use them for longer time periods than men.
  • Women may become dependent on prescription painkillers more quickly than men.
  • Women may be more likely than men to engage in “doctor shopping” (obtaining prescriptions from multiple prescribers).
  • Abuse of prescription painkillers by pregnant women can put an infant at risk.  Cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome – which is a group of problems that can occur in newborns exposed to prescription painkillers or other drugs while in the womb – grew by almost 300% in the U.S. between 2000 and 2009.