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More women dying of painkiller overdoses than ever before, CDC says

Middle-aged women are dying from overdoses of prescription opioid painkillers at “skyrocketing” rates, more than five times as often in 2010 as they were in 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

“Mothers, sisters and daughters are dying from prescription drug overdoses more than we’ve ever seen,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a conference call with reporters.

The CDC previously reported that deaths from overdoses of prescription opioid painkillers had exceeded those of cocaine and heroin combined.

The new report said more than 6,600 women died from a prescription painkiller overdose in 2010, which is more than twice the number dying from cervical cancer. The fastest-growing age group: women 45-54.

Opioid pain pills often have oxycodone and hydrocodone as the active ingredient and are addictive. Brand names in the category include OxyContin, Opana, Percocet and Vicodin.

Cocaine and heroin are illegal in the United States and most of the world. Prescription opioid painkillers, however, are legally made by drug companies. The legal market is about $10 billion per year.

Relieving pain for chronic cancer patients is among the proper uses for such medication.

Despite ample evidence to the contrary, some well-meaning physicians still write prescriptions for opioids when less-addictive medication is available or nondrug options have not been tried. Other doctors have been prosecuted for ignoring prescribing regulations.

Women are more likely to be diagnosed with chronic pain, including migraines.

Asked about the influence of drug company marketing, Frieden said, “Clearly, marketing is one of the reasons you get this increase.”

Drugmakers have tried to change the way their pills are made so they are more difficult to crush and liquefy. Abusers of those drugs sometimes smoke or snort the product.


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