Women Disproportionately Overdosing on Painkillers


Somewhere in between Valley of the Dolls and Winona Ryder getting arrested with Vicodin in her purse, prescription painkiller abuse went from an epidemic to an epidemic that affects women disproportionately. The Centers for Disease Control has just released a study that finds deaths from prescription painkillers have risen more sharply among women than men, with alarming statistics to back their claim:

Since 1999, the percentage increase in deaths among woman was more than 400%, compared to 265% in men. More than 5 times as many women died from painkiller overdoses in 2010 than in 1999, and prescription painkillers are involved in 1 out of 10 suicides among women. More woman die from painkiller overdose than from car accidents. About 18 women die from a painkiller overdose every day in the US.

But what about being a woman makes the painkiller problem worse? The theories are varying: some think it has to do with a smaller body mass, therefore a narrower gap in effective vs. dangerous dosage, others that women are more prone to chronic pain, therefore more likely to get prescribed painkillers. What is clear, though, is that women are being prescribed painkillers more than ever before. The ease with which most women can acquire a painkiller prescription makes them more prone to becoming addicted.

The root of why painkiller addiction and overdose are gendered problems is unclear. But after taking a glance at Instagram’s #pillnation, it’s obvious the problem isn’t going away any time soon.

[New York Times, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]

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