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Prescription drug overdoses: A growing epidemic among white women

When considering what segment of the population suffers from the most drug overdoses, middle-aged white women aren't the first to come to mind. Yet recent research has shed light on just how serious this often-overlooked problem has become.

The two main culprits

According to an eye-opening article in the Washington Post, white women across America are increasingly falling victim to dangerous prescription drug combinations. Two categories of drugs are the worst culprits:

  • Opiates - painkillers such as Vicodin, Oxycontin and morphine
  • Benzodiazepines - anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax, Klonopin and Valium

Both types of drugs slow down the nervous system, which can lead to heart failure and respiratory distress. The biggest risk comes when women take these pills together or with alcohol.

An ongoing problem

Despite recent warnings from the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control and the Food and Drug Administration, doctors continue to prescribe opiates and benzodiazepines together. Typically, patients end up on painkillers after suffering from an underlying injury or medical condition. They become addicted and struggle with serious side effects such as depression, anxiety and insomnia. To counteract these symptoms, their doctors prescribe powerful anti-anxiety drugs. The result: An addictive cocktail of powerful drugs that can readily shut down the body's central nervous system.

What the alarming data shows

The research illustrates this grim trend. The last 15 years have seen a 400 percent rise in deaths among middle-aged women from opiate overdoses. Doctors are more likely to prescribe opiates and benzodiazepines to women than men. And, worn down by addictions they can't overcome, women on these drugs are more likely to turn to alcohol.

Physicians and pharmacists alike have a responsibility toward these women. When they negligently prescribe medications - or gloss over drug interactions that can be deadly - they should be held accountable.

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