Prescription pain pill addiction at one time was associated with men, a national epidemic that started among workers performing hard maual labour, says the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC).
However, according to a new analysis of federal data, deaths from painkillers in recent years have been increasing much faster among women, quintupling since 1999.
The report said overdose of pain pills like OxyContin claims the lives of more women in the US today than cervical cancer or homicide.
Further though more men were dying, women were catching up, according to the analysis by the CDC said, adding the problem was more acute with white women than black women. Also older women were harder hit than younger ones.
Women are increasingly blaming the rise of the single-parent household, which has thrust immense responsibility on them, since they are not only mothers, but also, in many cases, primary breadwinners.
According to some women who described feeling overwhelmed by their responsibilities they craved the numbness brought by drugs. Others said with highs they felt pretty, strong and productive, a welcome respite from the chaos of their lives.
Meanwhile, the US top public health official yesterday slammed the widespread treatment of aches and pains with narcotics, saying that doctors were prescribing such drugs too soon, too often and for too long, putting patients at risk of addiction and overdose.
According to Tom Frieden, director of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, doctors were relying on these powerful drugs to treat chronic pain when physical therapy, exercise and other remedies would be safer and in many cases more effective.
He said, these were dangerous medications, and they should be reserved for situations like severe cancer pain, in his most forceful statement yet on the use of narcotic painkillers.
He added, in many other situations, the risks far outweighed the benefits. He added, prescribing an opiate may be condemning a patient to lifelong addiction and life-threatening complications.
His comments come as the US Food and Drug Administration considered new controls on the way narcotic painkillers could be prescribed and promoted. A top Drug Enforcement Administration official, earlier this year expressed support publicly for stricter limits on OxyContin, Vicodin and similar medications to "safeguard the American public."
At the same time, awareness was growing among law enforcement officials and public health experts that physicians' prescriptions played a significant role in fueling addiction and overdoses.