Women Prescription Drug Overdoses Skyrocket

When you think of a devastating and common cause of death among women, you probably think about breast cancer, the most common cancer among women in the United states.

You probably don’t think about prescription drug overdoses. But it’s true—recent data shows that more women die from prescription painkiller overdoses than from breast cancer. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) is calling it a public health epidemic, and the growing numbers deserve both attention and action.

Cold, hard facts about prescription painkiller use

Prescription painkiller overdoses may not have the impact of cancer or heart disease, but the devastation from prescription drug overdose is just as real and painful. The statistics are staggering:

  • 400% rate increase of women prescription painkiller overdose deaths from 1999 to 2010.
  • 48,000 women died from prescription painkiller overdoses between 1999 and 2010.
  • 18 women died every day from prescription painkiller overdoses in 2010.
  • 45–54 year old women have the highest risk of dying from a prescription painkiller overdose.
  • 1 in 10 suicides among women involve prescription painkillers
  • Women are more likely than men to doctor shop—getting multiple prescriptions from multiple prescribers and from multiple pharmacies.
  • Women may become addicted to painkillers faster than men.

Stopping this epidemic in women—and men—is everyone’s busines. –CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH

Be part of the solution for prescription drug overdose

If stopping this epidemic is our business too, how can we help?

Although many preventative responsibilities fall on physicians and pharmacists, there are many ways you, the person receiving the medication, or a family member can help prevent accidental overdose.

Avoid risky combinations

  • Painkillers taken with sedatives can suppress your breathing to the point of death.
  • Painkillers with alcohol will do the same thing.
  • Throw all three into the mix and you’re really in trouble.

Understand what you’re taking

Here’s a table of common painkillers and sedatives, along with their generic names:

Painkillers Sedatives
Vicodin (hydrocodone) Valium (diazepam)
OxyContin (oxycodone) Xanax (alprazolam)
Percocet (oxycodone) Ativan (lorazepam)
MS Contin (morphine) Klonopin (clonazepam)
Dilaudid (hydromorphone) Ambien (zolpidem)
Duragesic (fentanyl) Lunesta (eszoplicone)

It’s important to understand not only the names, but also

  • directions (1–2 tablets every 6 hours as needed)
  • side-effects (nausea)
  • why you’re taking them (broken leg)
  • what you shouldn’t take with them (alcohol)
  • how much water or food you should eat with them ( with a meal)
  • how long you should be on them (1–2 months)

Be sure to cover all these bases with your doctor or pharmacist.

Apply your knowledge about prescription drug use

Once you understand the medications you’re taking, apply what you know.

  • Follow the directions given by your doctor.
    • If the medication isn’t working or you feel you need a higher dose, consult your doctor first instead of adjusting it yourself. Otherwise, you’ll run out too soon and the insurance won’t go through on the next refill. More importantly, taking more than the directed amount opens the door to abuse.
    • Sometimes your body may not be able to handle the directed amount. That’s okay. Everyone’s body responds differently to medications. Often with painkillers, doctors advise taking a lower amount, 1/2 tablet, first and working your way up to the full dose if you need to. You should never feel pressured to take more than your body can handle.
    • Just because your doctor prescribed a painkiller doesn’t mean you need to take it. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a certain painkiller, there are multiple kinds, some less addictive than others. Ask your doctor for a different one, or maybe seek out alternative methods for managing pain, such as accupuncture..
  • Store medication in a safe place, so it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
  • Dispose of medications properly; do not keep them around “just in case.”
  • Do not share or sell your medications and do not take someone else’s medications.

Remember, just because it’s a prescription drug does not mean that it is safe. Drugs, legal or illegal, have the potential to be dangerous.

If you think you may have a problem with prescription drugs, call us today.