Preventing Drug Overdoses: A Look at Data, Laws and Policies

chartWhile men are more likely to die of a prescription painkiller overdose, since 1999 the percentage increase in deaths has been greater among women than among men, according to the Vital Signs monthly health indicator report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The increase in deaths between 1999 and 2010 has been 400 percent in women compared to 265 percent in men, according to the new report. The overdoses killed nearly 48,000 women during that time period.

“Prescription painkiller deaths have skyrocketed in women…” says CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “Stopping this epidemic in women – and men – is everyone’s business. Doctors need to be cautious about prescribing and patients about using these drugs.”

Key findings include:

About 42 women die every day from a drug overdose.

Since 2007, more women have died from drug overdoses than from motor vehicle crashes.

Drug overdose suicide deaths accounted for 34 percent of all suicides among women compared with 8 percent among men in 2010.

More than 940,000 women were seen in emergency departments for drug misuse or abuse in 2010.

For the Vital Signs report, CDC analyzed data from the National Vital Statistics System (1999-2010) and the Drug Abuse Warning Network public use file (2004-2010).

According to the CDC, studies have shown that women may become dependent on prescription painkillers more quickly than men and may be more likely than men to engage in “doctor shopping” (obtaining prescriptions from multiple prescribers).

CDC recommends prevention steps including state prescription drug monitoring programs; educating health care providers and the public about prescription drug misuse, abuse and suicide; and increasing access to substance abuse treatment. One critical public health effort to reduce deaths from opioid overdose, whether from heroin or pharmaceutical opioids, has been expanded use of the drug naloxone (Narcan) to reverse the overdose. However, the drug often isn’t on hand when it’s needed. According to a recent review by the Network for Public Health Law, many states have laws or regulations that make it difficult to for medical professionals to prescribe the drug to people who are not their patients and make it difficult for the drug to be dispensed in non-traditional settings such as social service organizations. And fear of arrest for suspected drug possession can discourage bystanders who are drug users from calling 911 to report an overdose.

More than a dozen states, most recently New Jersey, have recently modified one or more laws to make it easier for professionals and bystanders to administer naloxone. Overdose prevention and take-home naloxone laws expand naloxone access to drug users and their loved ones by providing comprehensive training on overdose prevention, recognition, and response (including calling 911 and administering rescue breathing) in addition to prescribing and dispensing naloxone for use in an emergency. Read More…

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