TODAY   |  July 03, 2013

More women becoming addicted to painkillers

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are urging health care professionals to cut back on the amount of painkillers they prescribe, particularly to women, as new research has found women are becoming addicted at alarming rates. NBC’s Tom Costello reports and Dr. Nancy Snyderman comments on the dangers of prescription drugs.

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>>> report that shows women are becoming adikted to painkillers at an alarming rate. here's tom costello.

>>> her addiction started with gallbladder surgery and then a broken collarbone. she was described percocet but she was soon doctor shopping trying to get more and more.

>> so i found a pain management doctor who would prescribe 100 pills. then another who would prescribe 180 pills.

>> her addiction lasted for 25 years. she is hardly alone. more than 6600 women die each year from prescription drug overdoses and while more men die of prescription ods, the rate of increase for women is far more dramatic. up 400% in ten years.

>> these are dangerous medications that need to be reserved for situations where they're really necessary, like severe cancer pain.

>> reporter: doctors are most concerned about the overuse of oxycondone, hydrocodone and vicodin.

>> now they're calling on doctors to consider a patient's dependency risk before prescribing painkillers.

>> she is working to get clean.

>> for me it's one day at a time. i couldn't do anymore.

>> reporter: fighting a demon she lived with for a quarter century. for today, tom costello, nbc news, washington.

>> let's get more with nancy snyderman , you were shocked when you saw a 400% increase for women.

>> the whole country was taken by storm. physicians, especially, there's enough blame to go around. patients that fake symptoms and know how to gain the system. this is the collective responsibility to say these medications are great when used for the right things but they're short-term fixes. they're not meant for long-term use.

>> i have seen a lot of series about why they are seeing the increase. they have smaller body mass so maybe the gap between a therapeutic dose and dangerous dose is narrower.

>> we metabolize them differently and our liver enzymes can only tolerate so much. the more we crack the human genome we'll find out they should be watched more carefully. it's the standard over the counters. and then if you really have problems you use them but never with three and four and five refills. one, maybe, but you must come back.

>> do you feel like the stigma for prescription painkillers isn't the same as other kind of drug addiction and that may open the door for some people.

>> i think the stigma for being an alcoholic is pretty high. this is almost mother's little helper in the 22nd century . increasingly it's no longer valium safe. we know it's addicting. people moved on to narcotics. we know these are addicting. it's a phenomenal wake up call that women can work just fine in the work place and take four and five at night and combine them with antianxiety drugs and alcohol. that may be the new face of addiction. don't assume the soccer mom driving your kids after school is clean. this phase of addiction is very different now.

>> sobering report nancy. thank you