Overdosing on pain killers becoming an epidemic for women

Many women start abusing prescription painkillers at young ages

By Rachel McNeill - Anchor

HOUSTON - About 18 women die every day of prescription painkiller overdoses.

Nine out of 10 times the death is accidental.

It's a national epidemic and a growing problem in the Houston area, which is known for pill mills that supply these highly addicting drugs.

A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found the number of women overdosing on prescription painkillers has increased by more than 400 percent since 1999.

CDC Director Tom Frieden said, "Prescription opiates like Oxycontin now kill more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined."

Dr. Mike Leath, Medical Director of the Pain Recovery Program at Memorial Hermann Prevention and Recovery Center, told Local 2, "They're escalating the dose, escalating the dose and they just fall asleep and don't wake up."

Many start abusing prescription painkillers at young ages like Alyssa Dedrick, who became hooked on oxycontin at age 14.

She told NBC News, "I craved it after that. It's like the addiction hit me right away."

Dr. Leath said women are more likely than men to have chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia and migraines.

"The chronic pain issue persists, so the doctor may not give them (the drugs) or renew the prescription or they may go to other doctors and doctor shop or they may discover the pill mills where they can get high quantities illicitly if they're willing to do that," Leath said.

Alyssa has beaten her addiction but acknowledges the growing number of women who don't.

Alyssa said, "Not everybody is this lucky. There are just a few of us that got to the other side."

Symptoms of prescription drug abuse include: changes in behavior, mood swings, changes in sleep habits or appearing to be unusually energetic or sedated.

The good news is there is treatment for this kind of addiction.

Experts with Memorial Hermann's Pain Recovery Program use everything from physical therapy to acupuncture to help patients learn to overcome their pain without the use of habit-forming medications.

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