Prescription drugs killing more women than ever; Kentucky ties for fifth for its high percentage of deaths

The ongoing national epidemic of addiction to prescription painkillers is spreading more quickly among women, and it is killing more women than ever before. Kentucky ties Utah for the fifth highest percentage of female deaths due to prescription-drug overdose (15.7 percent), says a new government report.

Opioids, or prescription painkillers, are the leading cause of drug-overdose deaths among women, accounting for 70 percent of overdoses. And, although men are more likely than women to die from drug overdose and Kentucky has the highest rate of male deaths in the country (25.9 percent), the percentage increase in the rate of overdose deaths from 1999 to 2010 was greater for women (151 percent) than for men (85 percent). During that period, there was a 415 percent overall increase in opioid painkiller-related deaths among women, compared with a 265 percent increase among men, says a Centers for Disease Control Vital Signs report released last week. (CDC graphics)

Since 2007, more women have died from drug overdoses than from motor-vehicle traffic injuries and about five times as many women died from prescription-painkiller overdoses in 2010 as in 1999. About 6,600 of those deaths occurred in 2010 alone, and prescription painkillers are reported to be involved in one of every 10 suicides among women, says the report.

Across the nation, about 18 women per day die from prescription drug overdose and every three minutes, a women goes to an emergency room for prescription-painkiller misuse or abuse, which is more likely to occur in women between the ages of 25 and 54. The report also says the rise of deaths from prescription drugs relates closely to increased prescribing of these drugs during the past decade.

States can take action against the dangers of prescription drug abuse by increasing access to substance abuse treatment while reducing barriers to getting such treatment, says the report. It is also important to educate health care providers about effective pain treatment options and to educate the public about the risks and benefits of taking prescription painkillers. Click here for a PDF factsheet from the CDC.
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