U.S. Women Painkiller Deaths Up 400 Percent

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Women died five times more often from overdoses of prescription drugs in 2010 than in 1999.
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Women in the United States are dying from overdoses of prescription painkillers at an alarming rate, with five times more deaths in 2010 than 1999, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

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A total of 6,631 women died from taking pills like Vicodin and Oxycontin in 2010, four times as many as died from heroin and cocaine combined, said the CDC Vital Signs report.

In 1999, 1,287 women died from prescription painkillers. Overdoses of these drugs killed almost 48,000 women between 1999 and 2010.

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"These are really troubling numbers," CDC director Tom Frieden told reporters, noting that the deaths are "skyrocketing... at rates we have never seen before."

While more men actually die each year from prescription painkiller overdoses than women, the rate of increase is much higher among women (400 percent rise) than men (265 percent rise from 1999 to 2010).

As of 2007, drug overdoses killed more women than car crashes, the CDC report found.

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The highest risk of dying from prescription narcotics or opiods was seen in women age 45-54.

Women may be at particular risk when it comes to prescription painkillers because they are more likely to suffer chronic pain than men, and they may become dependent on them more quickly than men, the CDC said.

The CDC said that deaths and hospitalizations have increased in direct proportion to the boost in supply.

In 2011, the CDC reported that opioid pain relievers, including oxycodone, methadone and hydrocodone, have quadrupled in sales to pharmacies, hospitals and doctors' offices since 1999.

Frieden said the use of powerful prescription painkillers should be reserved for special cases, like relief of severe cancer pain.

"In many other situations the risks far outweigh the benefits," he said.