Report: Middle-Aged Women at High Risk of Dying from Painkiller Overdose

Dorian Martin Health Guide July 03, 2013
  • “Every 3 minutes, a woman goes to the emergency department for prescription painkiller misuse or abuse.”


    That statement is part of a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So why should that be something for women going through menopause to note? It turns out that women between the ages of 45 to 54 --- right when most of us are going through the menopausal transition – are at the highest risk of dying from an overdose of these medications.


    The CDC found the following statistics:

    • Although men continue to be more likely to die of prescription painkiller overdoses (in 2010, more than 10,000 men died this way), the gap between men and women is closing.
    • Deaths from prescription painkiller overdose have increased more sharply for women than men.
    • More than five times as many women than men died from prescription painkiller overdoses in 2010 when compared to the numbers from 1999.
    • Women who are between the ages of 25 and 54 are more likely to go to the emergency room because of prescription painkiller misuse or abuse.
    • Non-Hispanic white and American Indian or Alaska Native women have the highest risk of dying from this type of overdose.
    • Prescription painkillers are used in one of 10 suicides among women.

    There are also some more additional – and troubling – facts that the CDC study uncovered:

    • Women are more likely to have chronic pain than men. Furthermore, we are more likely to have prescription painkillers prescribed by doctors, who tend to give women higher doses of these medications. Women also are more likely to use these drugs for longer periods of time than men.
    • Women may become more dependent on these painkillers more quickly than men.
    • Women may be more likely to try to get prescriptions from multiple prescribers than men.

    The CDC also pointed out that women are more likely than men to die of overdoses on medicines prescribed for mental health conditions. For instance, antidepressants and benzodiazepines (which are often prescribed for anxiety or sleep) are responsible for sending more women than men to the emergency room. The CDC warns that drugs prescribed for mental health reasons are especially dangerous when taken with prescription painkillers and/or alcohol.


    And that’s where the menopause link kicks in. The North American Menopause Society states that while few scientific studies support the notion that menopause contributes to clinical depression, severe anxiety or erratic behavior, the changes that happen during this time can cause emotional distress that can lead to mood swings and in some cases depression.  “Many women report symptoms of depressed mood, stress, anxiety, and a decreased sense of well-being around the time of menopause,” the society’s website reports. Furthermore, mood changes have been seen in slightly less than one-quarter of women who are in perimenopause or postmenopause. Symptoms of anxiety, including tension, nervousness, panic and worry, are also more frequently reported during perimenopause than the time before it.


  • So what should you do if you are taking painkillers or think you need a prescription because of pain? Here are some suggestions:

    • Tell your health care provider about all medications that you’re taking, including over-the-counter drugs.
    • Use prescription drugs only as directed by your health care provider.
    • Store all prescriptions in a secure place.
    • As soon as the course of treatment is done, dispose of medications properly. Do not keep these medications around thinking you may need them in the future.
    • Do not sell or share prescription drugs.
    • Never use prescription drugs that were given to another person.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:


    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Prescription painkiller overdoses; A growing epidemic, especially among women.


    North American Menopause Society.  (nd). Depression, mood swings, anxiety.