Health Beat with Dr. Alicia Arnold: Prescription painkiller overdoses in women

Last week, a report was released about the concerning trend of prescription painkiller overdoses in women. Dr. Alicia Arnold joined us to share more information about the problem.

Meghan Kulig: How many women are affected?

Dr. Arnold: More than 6,600 women died in the U.S. in 2010 as a result of prescription pain killer overdoses, about 18 women a day.

Meghan Kulig: Have these numbers been increasing?

Dr. Arnold: Yes. Overdose deaths in men increased over 265% since 1999, but overdose deaths in women increased by more than 400%.

Meghan Kulig: And there's probably many more women who are treated for non-fatal overdoses.

Dr. Arnold: For every woman who dies, 30 go to the emergency department for painkiller abuse or misuse.

Meghan Kulig: What are some theories on why this is increasing so significantly?

Dr. Arnold: Women are more likely to report chronic pain and may become dependent more quickly than men. Women are also more likely to use prescription painkillers for longer periods of time and to obtain them from multiple healthcare providers.

Meghan Kulig: Are there special concerns about pregnant women and these medications?

Dr. Arnold: An infant can potentially be put at risk if the mother abused prescription painkillers while pregnant. Problems in newborns as a result of being exposed to painkillers in the womb increased almost 300 percent in our country between 2000 and 2009.

Meghan Kulig: What are some steps that women could take to increase their medication safety?

Dr. Arnold: Always tell your health care provider about all medications you are taking. Sometimes women have prescriptions from different health care providers, but it is important that your clinician have a complete picture of all medications you are currently taking. Of course, you only should take medication prescribed for you and as directed. Also, dispose of any leftover prescription medications.

Meghan Kulig: What would be a possible resource if someone wanted to seek help for prescription drug problems?

Dr. Arnold: There is a national substance abuse helpline, open 24/7, 1-800-662-HELP. It is a referral line, so its purpose is to provide referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community organizations. If you have questions about medications, the poison help line is 1-800-222-1222. You could also speak with your healthcare provider.

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