Deadly Epidemic: Prescription Drug Overdoses

A growing epidemic of overdoses of prescription painkillers is leading to a record number of deaths, especially among women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“More women are dying at rates that we have never seen before,” CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said about the findings, which were released earlier this month.

“Stopping this epidemic in women—and men—is everyone’s business,” Frieden added.

More Americans now die from painkillers than from heroin and cocaine combined, and since 2008, prescription drug-induced deaths have outstripped those from automobile accidents, according to the CDC.

The CDC’s latest figures show that 16,500 people died from overdoses tied to common narcotic pain relievers — such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Opana, and methadone — in 2010. Of those, 40% were women.

In the past 11 years, deaths from overdose increased more than 400% among women, compared with a 265% rise among men.

“It’s not surprising with the greater access to medical procedures, like surgeries for knees, backs, and hips,” said Kent Runyon, director of Novus Medical Detox, a prescription drug private rehab center in New Port Rickey, Fla.

“Patients get prescriptions for pain drugs and then they get addicted, making it very hard to get off them,” he said.

“Her life was a mess. …”

“We had a woman here recently who sang in the church choir, was a stay-at-home mom, had beautiful children and a businessman husband,” Runyon said. “She had back surgery, which led her to prescription drugs for the pain. And when she turned to alcohol, her life was a mess.”

Americans consume 80% of opiate painkillers produced in the world, according to the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians. Every hour, a baby is born in the United States with symptoms of opiate withdrawal, according to a study published in April by the Journal of the American Medical Association.