Women’s drug overdose deaths are on the rise in the U.S.

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by Eric Pearson

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that drug overdose deaths in the U.S. are rising fastest among middle-aged women. And rather than illegal drugs, the drugs most often associated with overdose deaths among middle-aged women are prescription painkillers.

“Mothers, wives, sisters and daughters are dying at rates that we have never seen before,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC.

For many decades, the overwhelming majority of U.S. overdose deaths were men killed by illegal drugs like heroin or cocaine. But by 2010, 40 percent of overdose deaths were among women — most of them middle-aged women who took prescription painkillers. The CDC’s report found that the number and rate of prescription painkiller overdose deaths among females increased about fivefold from 1999 to 2010. Among men, such deaths rose about 3½ times.

Overall, more men still die from overdoses of painkillers and other drugs; there were about 23,000 such deaths in 2010, compared with about 15,300 for women. Men tend to take more risks with drugs than women, and often are more prone to the kind of workplace injuries that lead to their being prescribed painkillers in the first place, experts say. But the gender gap has been narrowing dramatically.

Studies suggest that women are more likely to have chronic pain, to be prescribed higher doses of prescription drugs and to use pain medication longer than men.

The report highlights the need for “a mindset change” by doctors, according to John Eadie, director of a Brandeis University program that tracks prescription-drug monitoring efforts across the United States. Doctors have traditionally thought of drug abuse as a men’s problem, he said. The changing landscape means that doctors need to more strongly consider the possibility of addiction in female patients, think of alternative treatments for chronic pain, and consult state drug monitoring programs to find out if a patient has a worrisome history with painkillers.

The CDC report focuses on prescription opioids like Vicodin and OxyContin and their generic forms, methadone, and a powerful newer drug called Opana, or oxymorphone.

“These are dangerous medications and they should be reserved for situations like severe cancer pain,” Frieden said. He added that there has not been a comparable increase in documented pain conditions in the U.S. public that would explain the boom in painkiller prescriptions in the last 10 or 15 years. Some experts said the increase in prescriptions can be traced to pharmaceutical marketing campaigns.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson fighting the pain pill industry and negligent doctors

Even when used as prescribed, opioid painkillers can cause serious and potentially deadly complications. Because painkillers can lower a patient’s breathing rate, opioid users may be at risk of developing repository depression. Some of these patients may fall into respiratory arrest, which can be fatal if not treated quickly

More people die from prescription drug overdoses each year than from heroin and cocaine combined. A significant part of the problem—that is not being adequately addressed—is the alarming number of deaths due to overdose on medications that were prescribed for the deceased by their doctors.

Patients who die from overdoses of drugs which have been prescribed for them most often overdose on prescription opioid painkillers. Some of the most commonly used prescription painkillers include:

  • Vicodin (sold generically under the name hydrocodone)
  • OxyContin (sold generically as oxycodone)
  • Dilaudid (sold generically under the name Hydromorphone)
  • Methadone
  • Fentanyl pain patch (sold generically under the brand names Sandoz, Watson and Mylan)

The attorneys at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have spent years holding drug companies and negligent prescribing doctors responsible for the injuries and deaths caused by their reckless conduct. When it comes to fighting the makers of prescription painkillers and pursuing the negligent doctors that hand them out, very few lawyers can claim anything close to the considerable experience or success of Heygood, Orr & Pearson.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson is among the nation’s leading law firms in handling cases involving potent opioids, and our law firm has the experience to prosecute medical malpractice lawsuits involving a wide array of serious opioid painkillers. To receive a free legal consultation and find out if you are eligible to file a case, please call our toll-free hotline at 1-877-446-9001, or by filling out our free case evaluation form located on this page.