Opioid Pain Reliever Overdoses Among U.S. Women

A recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights the worsening epidemic of deaths due to overdoses of prescription pain relievers among U.S. women.


The report, which examined data from the National Vital Statistics System and the Drug Abuse Warning Network found that the number of deaths due to prescription opioids among women increased more then five times from 1999 to 2010.  During the same time period the number of deaths among men increased 3.6 times.  More men then women still die from opioid pain reliever overdoses but the numbers are increasing faster for women.

Another important finding of the report is that despite being the number three reason for emergency room visits behind heroine and benzodiazepines, opioid pain relievers were responsible for four times more actual deaths then heroine and cocaine combined.  The 2010 rate of opioid pain reliever poisonings was estimated to be 4.2 per 100,000 women.

The CDC report mentions the use of prescribing guidelines and prescription drug monitoring programs as public health interventions to address the epidemic but failed to recognize that the evidence base for these promising interventions is still evolving.  The report also failed to mention the potential role of overdose education and naloxone distribution programs as part of a comprehensive strategy to address the opioid poisonings, an evidence based approach endorsed by the American Public Health Association.


Despite the existence of some promising interventions, the reality is that the epidemic of overdoses from prescription opioids is running rampant and there is a critical need for additional research to identify ways to slow the epidemic and hopefully bring it under control.

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