taking medicineA new study finds prescription painkillers are largely to blame for an increase in the death rate among white women ages 15 to 54 in the United States over the past 15 years, The Washington Post reports.

The Urban Institute study found 15.9 per 100,000 white women died from opioid-related complications in 2011, up from 3.3 per 100,000 in 1999.

Between 1992 and 2006, death rates for women increased in 42.8 percent of U.S. counties. Death rates for men increased in only 3.4 percent of counties during the same period. Between 1999 and 2011, death rates climbed significantly only among white women ages 15 to 54. Half of the increase was due to drug overdoses, according to the study.

“A lot of theories out there suggest stress has major effects on our health,” said co-author Nan Astone, a senior research fellow at the Urban Institute’s Labor, Human Services and Population Center. “We know that white women are single parents more often than they ever have been before. They’re more often the breadwinner. They’re juggling a lot of roles.”

The study found death rates from accidental poisoning for non-Hispanic black women also increased between 1999 and 2011, from 4.8 to 7.4 per 100,000 per year. “This increase, however, was not nearly as much as it was for white women,” the researchers wrote. “In fact, the death rates from accidental poisoning are now much lower for blacks (7.4) than for whites (15.9).”

Diseases associated with smoking and obesity also contributed to higher death rates among white women, the study found.

Text from Join Together Partnership for Drug-Free Kids article.