A new report has found that women in the U.S. are dying from overdoses of pain medication at an alarming rate.
New information from the Centers for Disease Control has found that women in the U.S. are dying from overdoses of pain medication at an alarming rate.
A sharp increase in the deaths of women from drugs such as OxyContin, Vicodin and methodone has been reported, according to findings released last week.
“Mothers, wives, sisters and daughters are dying at rates that we have never seen before,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said.
In fact, more women have been dying from this preventable problem than from cervical cancer or even murder.
Sharp spike in women’s deaths from pain medication
In what is being referred to as a new national epidemic, some researchers are pointing out that death from prescription pain medication overdose has the stigma of being more of male problem.
The first information about this problem can be traced to beginning among workers doing backbreaking labor in the coal mines and factories of Appalachia, the New York Times reported. However, the most recent federal data indicates that deaths of this nature are growing fastest among women. Researches have tracked a four hundred percent increase of such deaths in the U.S. since 1999.
For many decades, the overwhelming majority of U.S. overdose deaths were men killed by heroin or cocaine.
But by 2010, 40 percent were women — most of them middle-aged women who took prescription painkillers.
The problem is plaguing white women more so than black women, and older women are hit harder than younger ones, the CDC says. Nearly fifty thousand women died from prescription painkillers between 1999 and 2010.
About 18 women die every day of a prescription painkiller overdose in the U.S., or just under seven thousand per year.
“Prescription painkiller overdoses are an under-recognized and growing problem for women,” the CDC said. “Although men are still more likely to die of prescription painkiller overdoses (more than 10,000 deaths in 2010), the gap between men and women is closing. Deaths from prescription painkiller overdose among women have risen more sharply than among men.”
Another warning issued by the CDC cautions that the abuse of prescription painkillers by pregnant women can put an infant at risk. Cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) — a group of problems that can occur in newborns exposed to prescription painkillers or other drugs while in the womb — can cause birth defects, low birth weight, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and many other complications. Such cases grew by almost three hundred percent in the U.S. between 2000 and 2009.
Why the increase?
One reason to which the CDC attributes the skyrocketing rates is the fact that women are more likely to have chronic pain — and be prescribed prescription painkillers, at higher doses, and for a longer time than men.
The CDC also says that women may become dependent on prescription painkillers more quickly than men.
The agency says the rise also relates closely to an overall increased prescribing of these drugs during the past decade, and it calls upon health care providers to help improve the way painkillers are prescribed, making sure women have access to safe, effective pain treatment.
Other guidelines suggested include making sure that doctors prescribing such types of medication follow guidelines for responsible prescribing, including screening and monitoring for substance abuse and mental health problems.
Using prescription drug monitoring programs is also recommended in order to identify patients who may be improperly obtaining or using prescription painkillers and other drugs.
Women may be more likely than men to engage in “doctor shopping” (obtaining prescriptions from multiple prescribers), which may also contribute to the increase.
There are many doctors that may not recognize these facts about women, John Eadie, director of a Brandeis University program that tracks prescription-drug monitoring efforts across the United States, told the Daily Mail.
Many doctors who have traditionally thought of drug abuse as a man’s problem need to change their mindset, Eadie said, as women are introduced to these types of drugs to treat pain with a doctor’s prescription.
Drugs such as Vicodin, OxyContin, their generic forms, methadone and a powerful newer drug called Opana or oxymorphone have been linked to these types of deaths. In many cases a combination of drugs was noted. “These are dangerous medications and they should be reserved for situations like severe cancer pain,” Frieden said.
However no studies have been done to track a rise in reports of pain during the time period in which deaths attributed to pain medication has arisen. Some have speculated that the increase in prescriptions can be traced to pharmaceutical marketing campaigns.
In this culture that craves fast results and demands quick fixes, it may be that popping a pill to manage pain is unwise. Methods like physical therapy could perhaps be an alternative to prescription pain medications. And doctors should put more effort into helping their patients avoid the pitfalls of prescription pain medications. Improved tracking systems and closer monitoring of patients — as well as doctors who are over-prescribing such medications — may be the key to saving lives. An ounce of prevention surely is worth a pound of cure when it comes to saving lives.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Mint Press News editorial policy.