Deaths from overdose of prescription narcotic painkillers have skyrocketed in women according to new data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC). The problem is getting worse quickly. The number of women dying from prescription painkillers has increase 5 fold between 1999 and 2010. These fatalities have included too many mothers, wives, sisters and daughters to go ignored. The increase in fatalities is directly related to an increase in the number of prescriptions written by physicians for both acute and chronic pain that cannot possibly be clinically indicated. In 2010, 18 women died every day from narcotic painkiller overdose, with four times as many women dying from these drugs than from cocaine and heroin. “These are troubling numbers,” said the CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH.
The data shows that women receive higher doses and stay on these drugs for longer periods than men. The higher doses in women, who generally weigh less than men, are something that is not understood. These medications are highly addictive and dangerous and should be reserved for severe pain, such as intractable cancer pain, where the benefits outweigh the risk of overdose death. No doubt the push to treat chronic pain and the marketing of these drugs by pharmaceutical manufacturers has played a role in their increased use. The CDC recommends that doctors:
· Follow screening guidelines for substance abuse and mental health problems when prescribing narcotic painkillers
· Utilize state prescription drug monitoring programs to identify patients who improperly use these drugs
· Discuss alternative pain treatment options that do not involve prescription drugs
· Discuss the risks and benefits when using these drugs for chronic pain
· Avoid prescribing prescription pain killers and benzodiazepines unless there is a specific medical indication
Britcher Leone & Roth has investigated a number of narcotic overdose deaths. Physicians have to be aware of the proper indications for their use, the proper dose to order and ensure that patients are monitored to detect signs of abuse of these narcotics. When death occurs, a careful analysis of the records of prescriptions and the indications for the same is necessary to determine if there is a claim for the family for the wrongful death of a loved one.