A Vital Signs report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month shows a staggering 400% increase in the number of women who died from a prescription painkiller overdose from 1999 to 2010. The rate of men’s deaths in that same category, meanwhile, rose 265% — a depressing number in its own right.
But the 400% increase in women means that in 2010, according to the CDC’s calculations, 6,600 women lost their lives because of a prescription painkiller overdose; that’s 18 women every day. That’s four times the number of deaths attributed to cocaine and heroin combined.
And once every 3 minutes, an ER somewhere in America sees a woman for problems resulting from opioid misuse or abuse.
“Stopping this epidemic in women – and men – is everyone’s business,” Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, director of the CDC, said in a press release. “Doctors need to be cautious about prescribing and patients about using these drugs.”
Polling commissioned by Research!America in March helps contextualize the issue. In the poll, 85% of respondents expressed their concern about the potential for misuse of prescription painkillers; of those, half said they were very concerned.
More than half of respondents believed that doctors are not sufficiently discussing the possibility of addiction with their patients. Indeed, one of the CDC’s recommendations for health care providers is to discuss the risks and benefits of prescription painkillers with their patients.
And 40% of respondents said prescription pain addiction and abuse is a major problem in their community, while 25% said it is not. As Frieden alluded to, addiction to prescription medicine is not merely limited to one category of people.
In the Vital Signs report, the CDC lists the steps it’s taking to stem this problem. There are also recommendations for health care providers, states and patients, because no one group will turn this problem around by itself.
Sixty-six hundred women each year. Forty-eight thousand women during the course of the study. That is far, far too many.