An Increase in Women Dying of Prescription Drug Overdose

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It was all over the news yesterday that a recent report showed an alarming increase in the number of opiod-related deaths of women.  The report by Karin Mack, PhD, of the Center for Disease Control, showed an increase in death of 415% among women compared to 265% among men between the years of 1999 and 2010.  Another way to state the statistic is that 48,000 women died by prescription drug overdose during this eleven year time period.

We know about prescription drug abuse here in Oklahoma as this state is number one in the country for prescription drug abuse.  Nationwide, more people die of prescription drug overdoses than in car accidents.  This is a problem of epidemic proportions.  I think one of the reasons it has been allowed to escalate to this degree is the myth around prescription drugs.  The myth involves the historic and enduring faith we put in our doctors and the prescriptions they write for us.  We continue to make a clear distinction between prescription drugs obtained from a doctor and “street” drugs.  We tend to believe the chance of getting addicted is lower and the risk of death is lower with an opiate in pill form rather than in the form of a drug such as heroin or cocaine.  The problem with this reasoning is that it just isn’t true.

During my time in the Admissions Department here at Brookhaven, I had several instances when individuals coming in for treatment explained to me that they didn’t do street drugs, and, because of this, they were not like the other patients with addiction problems.  One patient had already surpassed the stage where she obtained several prescriptions from different doctors and was obtaining the pills off the street.  Even though she was injecting the substance intravenously, she separated herself from others addicted to heroin stating that she had never done street drugs.  More people are dying due to prescription drug overdose than overdose by street drugs like heroin.

It is more than disturbing that women are dying in such high numbers from prescription drug overdose.  One reason behind the statistics involving these deaths is that women experience chronic pain in higher numbers than men.  For unknown reasons, women are prescribed higher amounts of pain medication than men.  There are several ways to prevent these deaths.  Our doctors need to ask more questions of their patients to assess for the possibility of addiction when prescribing opiods.  Our doctors also need to utilize the monitoring systems to track prescriptions for their patients.  Use of these systems lowers the ability of patients with addiction issues to doctor shop and obtain multiple prescriptions.  We can help the situation by taking prescription medication as prescribed or by looking for other ways to manage chronic pain.  We also need to store and discard our prescription drugs appropriately and refrain from sharing a prescription with someone else.

Help is available for those struggling with addiction to prescription drugs.  People are terrified to find out what their pain level is as most of these addictions are born out of a painful physical condition.  It takes an incredible amount of courage to seek help.

Click here to read more about the recent findings.  For further reading on this topic, click here.

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