COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - The number of prescription painkiller overdose deaths increased five times among middle-aged women in 2010 than in 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, men are more likely to die of painkiller overdose, but the percentage increase in deaths was greater among women since the late 1990s. Thus, women and men in Columbus are no exceptions to this new epidemic.
Dr. Kevin McPherson, a psychiatrist from Columbus Psychological Associates, said he often sees patients who are dependent on opioid painkillers. Opioid pills are prescribed to patients from doctors, and many people become addicted to the substance.
Once people start using opioid painkillers, their bodies begin developing tolerance. This means people have to take bigger amounts of the painkillers to experience the same affect, and often times overdosing leads to death.
"There are more people who are addicted to painkillers than heroin, and it has been increasing nationwide," explained Dr. McPherson. "Women often visit their doctors more often than men. So it is possible that women leave their doctors' office with some sort of prescription to treat their illness. It is important to understand that women nowadays play many different roles. They are mothers, wives, workers and daughters. Women tend to care more about fulfilling their roles as best as they can. They also end up believing that they do not have enough time to see their doctors as often as they need to. So they end up taking painkillers to alleviate their pain instead of receiving professional treatment."
Dr. McPherson also said that women are lower in body mass, so it does not take a huge amount of medication for women to overdose. In addition, most medicines were primarily tested in men until few years ago. So how men absorb and break down the medicine might be different for women.
Dr. McPherson also explained that middle-aged women overdose on prescription painkillers because women experience more problems with knee pains, back pains and other body aches.
"Most people overdose on accident, and once they get to this point, it is hard for them to get out of the cycle since they have developed tolerance for the drug," Dr. McPherson explained. "They have trouble trying to live a normal life without the medicine once they become dependent on the drug."
Another issue Dr. McPherson explained from this story was the danger of people handing out or even selling their prescribed painkillers to other people.
"This is a crime. There is a drug monitoring program that is being placed in Georgia. This new program will allow all pharmacists and doctors to have access to patient data information, so that patients cannot visit different doctors in a short amount of time to attain more prescribed painkillers than they need," Dr. McPherson added. "Hopefully, this discourages people from selling their prescribed pills to others for profit and other reasons."