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Prescription Painkiller Overdose Deaths Rise for Women

The number of women who died from an overdose of prescription painkillers jumped almost fivefold in the past decade amid an abuse epidemic, U.S. officials said.

Almost 48,000 women died from 1999 to 2010 from overdoses of prescription painkillers such as OxyContin or Vicodin, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report. While more men died from painkiller abuse during the period, the increase of fatal overdoses was higher among women and the CDC warned the gender gap is closing quickly.

“When I look at all of the problems we deal with at CDC, there are few that are getting worse,” Thomas Frieden, director of the Atlanta-based agency, said yesterday in a conference call with reporters. The problem of overdoses from prescription painkillers among women “is getting worse, and it’s getting worse quickly,” he said.

Since 2007, more women have died from drug overdoses of all kinds than from car accidents and in 2010 four times as many women died from fatal overdoses as were victims of homicides, the CDC said in its report released yesterday.

There was a direct relationship between a larger number of prescriptions for opioid painkillers during the period and the increase in deaths, Frieden said. Women are more likely to have chronic pain and receive larger prescriptions for higher doses than their male counterpart, according to the CDC’s report. Prescription painkiller abuse can endanger or addict a pregnant woman’s fetus, and cases of neonatal withdrawal grew almost fourfold from 2000 to 2009.

In its report, the CDC urged federal and state governments to share information from prescription drug monitoring programs and work with doctors to reduce abuse.

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