Dr. Akash Bajaj, M.D., a board-certified anesthesiologist and specialist in pain management, remembers well last month when a new patient, a well-dressed Los Angeles woman in her 40s, came to his office complaining of back pain. That’s a common ailment for a woman of her age but what happened next was eye-opening, he tells Monsters and Critics.
“She handed me three empty bottles for 50 pills each of Vicodin, OxyContin and Naproxen and sweetly told me to ‘fill ‘em up – please’,” he says.
Now this alarming trend is a fact, middle-aged women are dying at alarming rates from painkiller overdose.
This generation who grew up with "the Pill" are dying at record rates from opiates and opioid abuse.
Painkiller deaths are now described by the CDC as "epidemic" as addicted women are beating the men for deaths directly related to to prescription opioid painkillers, according to government researchers.
There was a 415% increase in opioid painkiller-related deaths among women between 1999 and 2010 compared with a 265% increase among men, according to Karin Mack, PhD, of the CDC, and colleagues.
Staggering numbers, as 48,000 women died of prescription painkiller overdoses between 1999 and 2010, they reported in a Vital Signs report in Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report.
"Prescription painkiller drug deaths have skyrocketed in women," Thomas Frieden, MD, director of the CDC, told reporters during a press briefing. "It's not only deaths, but there is also a great increase in the number of emergency department visits for misuse and abuse of opioid painkillers."
Emergency Room visits related to prescription opioid abuse "more than doubled" among women between 2004 and 2010, the study showed. Rates were highest among women ages 25 to 34, reaching nearly 50,000 ED visits for opioid painkillers in 2010.
Frieden said the increases in deaths and ED visits among women has tracked along with increased prescribing of opioid painkillers. Those prescriptions have risen "to an extent that we could not have anticipated, and which could not possibly have been clinically indicated," Frieden said.
In 2010, the 15,323 deaths among women that were drug overdoses, 6,631 deaths -- 71% -- were directly because of prescription opioids.
The research revealed that women often receive greater doses of these drugs than men receive.
"We don't understand why [women] are getting higher doses, when on average they should be getting lower doses" than men, Frieden said during the briefing.
Frieden added that clinicians "need to recognize women at risk. A lot of healthcare providers currently think just men" are at greater risk of death from opioid overdose.
"There's no clear indication of these drugs for other conditions [besides cancer pain]," Frieden said, noting a lack of evidence for opioids in chronic back or body pain, an indication for which they are commonly used. "We really want to emphasize the risks and benefit. These are risky drugs, and often there are other therapies such as physical therapy, exercise, and cognitive therapies that can be important in addressing chronic pain."
Dr. Bajaj explained that more often, the telltale signs of prescription pill abuse are far more subtle and to the untrained eye, even among seasoned physicians. "Frequently missed signs include, excessive sweating, nausea, anxiety, chills and dilated pupils."
Going to a highly trained pain specialist may provide strong alternatives to you.
Dr. Bajaj says, "Now, there's no reason to assume that if your doctor prescribes one of these dangerous drugs that you should just accept it. Too many people have done that and it's become catastrophic to so many people. You do have the right to question the prescription. You do control your own life."
"If you find yourself in danger of being addicted to the drugs either elicit or prescription/narcotic based, there are several different alternatives to help eliminate this threat of addiction. When done appropriately with a balanced approach in a timely fashion these dangerous medications can be eliminated from your lifestyle. A unique, custom approach is recommended for each patient utilizing several different modalities in several different classes of herbs and supplements, and medications. Many of these are nutritional base which will provide overall homeopathic improvement," says Dr. Bajaj.