By: Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – There’s been a dramatic increase in the number of women dying from prescription drug overdoses.  3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl is here now with more on the startling new government statistics.

Middle aged women account for the fastest growing number of over-dose deaths in the United States.  And visits to emergency rooms from narcotic overdoses has more than doubled among women.

“It’s very easy.  You could go from doctor to doctor,” said a Chester County woman who wants to remain anonymous.  She became addicted to pain pills, when they were prescribed for a broken leg.

“It ruined my life.  Oh my God, it totally ruined my life,” said the woman.  She survived and is in recovery.  But a new report from the Centers for Disease Control shows the number of women who died from prescription overdoses rose 400 percent between 1999 and 2010.

The report says during that time nearly 48,000 women overdosed on painkillers like Vicodin and Oxycontin.

“They shouldn’t be used lightly.  Where they are essential, necessary, something like severe cancer pain, they are important tools.  But all too often, the risks are way higher than the benefits,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, the CDC Director.

The report finds prescription painkiller overdoses are also on the rise for men, but not as sharply as for women.

Previous research has shown that women are more likely to have chronic pain, be prescribed painkillers, and at higher doses.

Studies have also shown that women may become dependent on prescription painkillers more quickly than men.

There are some basic precautions women should take when prescribed narcotics.

“Use it only as indicated on the bottle and when you finish taking the prescription pain medications, get rid of the prescription pain medications. Do not save them for another time,” said Dr. Tod Bania, a Toxicologist.

And always discuss all medications you take with your doctor, especially narcotics.

The CDC says 6,600 women died from prescription drug overdoses in 2010. That’s four times as many who died from cocaine and heroin combined.

Fore more information, click on the CDC Prescription Painkiller Overdose Report:

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