More Women Dying from Drug Overdoses than Car Accidents

New statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released Tuesday reveal "a growing epidemic" of prescription painkiller overdoses, especially among women.

The report found that roughly 48,000 women have died from painkiller overdoses between 1999 and 2010—a staggering increase of 400 percent. Even more shocking, since 2007, more women have died from drug overdoses than motor vehicle crashes.

In contrast to other drug-use trends, the CDC report found that white women are more at risk for overdose for painkiller overdoses than black women, and older women are more at risk than younger women.

Prescription painkiller overdose deaths are a growing problem among women.

<img title="Image: http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/PrescriptionPainkillerOverdoses/images/overdose-deaths_626px.jpg" class="article-body-image" src="http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/PrescriptionPainkillerOverdoses/images/overdose-deaths_626px.jpg" alt="Prescription painkiller overdose deaths are a growing problem among women"/>

SOURCE: National Vital Statistics System, 1999-2010 (deaths include suicides)

"It's kind of the Heath Ledger phenomenon. Even though any one of them are not enough to cause an overdose, two or three of theme together is enough," Dr. David Sack, CEO of Promises Treatment Centers, told CBS.

So why are women at risk in particular?

The study finds that women are more likely than men to be prescribed painkillers, use them chronically, and get prescriptions for higher doses. In addition, the most common forms of chronic pain (like fibromyalgia) are more common in women. And since women tend to have less body mass than men, it is easier for them to overdose. Women are also more likely to be given prescriptions of psychotherapeutic drugs like antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, putting them at greater risk for painkiller overdose due to drug interactions.

The painkiller epidemic impacts children, as well. Pregnant women taking prescription drugs can put their fetus at risk for neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a condition similar to fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

The FDA is already responding to the crisis by regulating prescription drugs more closely in order to prevent abuse. Earlier this spring, the FDA banned a generic form of the original formula of OxyContin.

Watch this Director's Briefing from the CDC for more information:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on YouTube

(Image: via Flickr)