The number of women dying from overdoses of opioid painkillers increased 5-fold between 1999 and 2010, according to new data released on July 2, 2013 by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, said the following during a media briefing:
- The problem of prescription opioid drug overdoses in women is “getting worse and getting worse quickly.”
- Deaths due to opioid drugs have “skyrocketed in women.”
- “Mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters are dying from overdoses at rates we have never seen before.”
- “The increase in opioid overdoses and opioid overdose deaths is directly proportional to the increase in prescribing of painkillers.”
- Opioid prescriptions are “increasing to an extent that we would not have anticipated and that could not possibly be clinically indicated.”
The CDC now says that since 1999, the percentage increase in painkiller-related deaths was actually greater among women than men (400% in women vs 265% in men). Prescription painkiller overdoses killed nearly 48,000 women between 1999 and 2010. More than 6600 women, or 18 women every day, died from a prescription painkiller overdose in 2010
There were 4 times more deaths among women from prescription painkiller overdose than for cocaine and heroin deaths combined in 2010. In 2010, there were more than 200,000 emergency department visits for opioid misuse or abuse among women — about 1 every 3 minutes.
Previous research has shown that women are more likely to have chronic pain, be prescribed prescription painkillers, be given higher doses, and use them for longer periods than men. The higher doses in women are “something we don’t really understand,” Dr. Frieden said, “given that, on average, women weigh less than men, and at the same or higher dose, they are more likely to have adverse events than men.”
Studies have also shown that women may become dependent on prescription painkillers more quickly than men and may be more likely than men to engage in “doctor shopping” (obtaining prescriptions from multiple prescribers).
“These are dangerous medications,” Dr. Frieden said. “They should be reserved for situations like severe cancer pain, where they can provide extremely important and essential palliation, but in many other situations, the risks far outweigh the benefits. Prescribing an opioid may be condemning a patient to lifelong addiction and life-threatening complications.”
The CDC is now encouraging medical doctors to take the following steps when treating women for pain:
- Follow guidelines for responsible opioid prescribing, including screening and monitoring for substance abuse and mental health problems.
- Use their states’ prescription drug monitoring program; this can help identify patients who may be improperly using opioids and other drugs.
- Discuss pain treatment options, including ones that do not involve prescription drugs.
- Discuss the risks and benefits of taking prescription painkillers, including situations in which painkillers are taken for chronic conditions, and especially during pregnancy.
- Avoid prescribing combinations of prescription painkillers and benzodiazepines unless there is a specific medical indication.
Consider Drug-Free Treatment Alternatives
Our office utilizes a wide spectrum of drug-free treatment and management strategies for musculoskeletal pain and injuries including rehabilitative exercise, applied nutrition, Chiropractic, and manual therapies.
Problems we successfully treat include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Headaches of muscular/mechanical origin
- Neck pain/stiffness
- Shoulder pain: rotator cuff or other functional problems involving muscles/tendons
- Tennis/Golfers Elbow
- Back pain
- Hip flexor tendonitis, bursitis, and/or myofascitis
- Groin injuries
- Hamstring and quadricep injuries
- Knee pain: patellofemoral pain/stress syndrome, iliotibial band syndrome
- Shin splints
- Achilles tendonitis
- Plantar fascitis
- Other overuse injuries arising from exercise or sports