Addiction to prescription pain killers has long been seen mainly as a problem related to men. But, new data released Tuesday shows recently the death rate has risen much faster among women. In the last ten years, the number of pain killer related deaths among men has increased by more than three and half times, but among women, more than five times.
Debbie Lloyd is a certified addiction registered nurse at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, and she's seen a big change with pain killers over the past decade. She says, "There's actually an increase overall in people coming in with opiate addiction. The United States makes up 4.6 percent of the world's population yet we consumed 80 percent of the pain pills in the world."
So why are women specifically dying at such alarmingly increasing rates?
"I feel that more women are going to the doctors, so more women are being prescribed and these days most women have a lot of stress in their life and the medication is used not only for pain but it's kind of used as an escape," Lloyd says.
Dr. Roland Reinhart is a pain management specialist in Palm Desert, he says "I think probably what we're seeing is there are a lot more women who are in the workforce where previously may be a few were stay at home moms, you wouldn't take those pills or maybe you had other things. But, now I think as the economy has worsened a lot more women are finding themselves having to work, having to make that income. So having to find some way to be able to continue to work and bring home money."
More women are looking for pain relief and more doctors are prescribing stronger pain killers than ever before.
Lloyd tells us, "I think that's another reason that addiction is so rampant right now, especially to pain pills, It's an epidemic. You can go to your doctor for any minor ache or pain and you're going to be prescribed an opiate."
The rate increase was especially high among middle aged women, who are now working more and are seeking the most help.
"As you live you life you have traumas that have occurred in your life, car accidents what ever, and your body has got a little wear and tear on it so you're a little more susceptible and again if you need to continue to perform whether it's your job or taking care of your children," Reinhart says.
Center for disease control officials think more than 70 percent of these overdose deaths are unintentional. So why are they happening at such alarming rates?
Reinhart continues, "I think a lot of times the overdose comes not as an intentional overdose but they take a pill and say, well I don't quite feel good enough and then they take another pill and they really haven't given it time to work or to metabolize."
The majority of overdose deaths come from either taking too many pills, or by mixing prescriptions.
Lloyd says, "Oh I'm stressed out I'm going to take a pain pill and then I'm also going to take a sleeping pill or have some alcohol with my pain medication, and it's the mixing that causes the most overdoses."
Pain specialists say general practitioners need to be more careful when prescribing opiates and other strong pain killers. and patients need to be more careful when taking so many pills.
Reinhart says, "I think that patients who are taking six or eight dose of medicine a day would probably benefit from seeing a pain management specialist because maybe a long acting drug would be safer."