Vital Signs: Overdoses of Prescription Opioid Pain Relievers and Other Drugs Among Women — United States, 1999–2010

Rates of prescription painkiller abuse among women in the U.S. have skyrocketed over the past decade, according to new data released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2010, more than 6,600 women died from an overdose. That’s five times the number of overdose deaths reported in 1999.

Painkiller abuse has long been considered a problem exclusively for men. Researchers say, however, that because women are more likely to suffer from chronic pain such as abdominal pain, migraines or muscular skeletal pain, and typically weigh less than men, they set themselves up to become more dependent on pain care for a longer period of time. Deaths from prescription painkiller overdose among women have burgeoned since 1999 by more than 400 percent compared to 265 percent in men.

Driving the sharp trend, CDC Director Tom Frieden says, is a general lack of awareness on the part of doctors and patients alike of the risks and benefits of use or abuse.

“Prescribing an opioid may condemn a patient to lifelong addition and lifelong complications,” said Frieden.

CDC officials not only underscored the responsibility of health care providers to talk with their patients about prescription painkillers but also called upon states to implement or strengthen monitoring and tracking programs to help detect over or improper use.

“Women do so much to keep their families healthy but they also need to do what it takes to keep themselves healthy,” said Frieden.