Deadly prescription drug combinations are taking a toll on women in America, particularly white women.
Research from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention show that white women are dying prematurely thanks to a big increase in overdoses. Drugs, especially pain medications, known as opioids, and anti-anxiety drugs, that are prescribed in tandem have deadly side effects.
Death Rate Climbs for Middle-Age White Women
Between 1999 and 2014, the number of middle-age white women dying annually from opiate overdoses shot up 400%, according to a Washington Post analysis of the CDCC data. Anti-anxiety drugs known as benzodiazepines contributed to a growing share of the 54,000 deaths over that period.
Both drugs depress the central nervous system, temporarily easing pain and anxiety while suppressing respiration, heart rate and the gag reflex. Alcohol has the same effect, and combining any of these can be fatal.
“They act like a dimmer switch on the central nervous system,” said Rear Admiral Susan Blumenthal, former U.S. assistant surgeon general. “When taken in combination, a person’s breathing and heart will slow down, and can ultimately stop. People can go to sleep and never wake up.”
Why White Women are at Higher Risk for Deadly Prescription Drug Combinations
White women are more likely than women of other races to be prescribed opiates, and far more likely to be prescribed both opiates and anti-anxiety drugs, say experts. White women prescribed opiates are five times as likely as white men to be given that drug combination – helping to explain why white women may be at high risk.
Federal health officials have recognized the danger. Recently, in a guideline that urged doctors to reduce the general use of opioids for chronic pain, the CDC warned against prescribing them together with benzodiazepines, except for patients battling fatal diseases such as cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also begun requiring warning labels on opioids and benzodiazepines – nearly 400 products in total – with information about the potentially fatal consequences of taking these medications at the same time.
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