Between 1999 and 2010, the proportion of deaths from painkiller overdose increased 400 percent among women, while rising 265 percent among men.
“Prescription painkiller deaths have skyrocketed in women," Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, said at a news conference today (July 2). "Mothers, wives, sisters and daughters are dying of overdoses at rates we have never seen before," Frieden said.
While men remain more likely to die of a prescription painkiller overdose, deaths among women have increased at a higher rate, and are catching up to those of men, Frieden said.
In 2010, more than 6,600 women died from prescription painkiller overdose, which is four times the number of women who died from cocaine and heroin overdoses combined, the CDC says. Most of these deaths are accidental. The death rate was highest among women ages 45 to 54.
There were also more than 200,000 emergency department visits for opioid abuse among women in that year.
Research suggests women are more likely to experience chronic pain and migraines, and to be prescribed prescription painkillers than men, the CDC says. Women may also become dependent on the drugs more quickly than men, the agency said.
Because women often weigh less than men, they may experience life-threatening events at lower doses of painkillers, Frieden said.
Rates of death from prescription painkiller overdose have increased at the same time as prescriptions for the drugs have increased. "These are dangerous medications," Frieden said. "In many other situations,