Overdose deaths in the US are rising fastest among middle-aged women, and their drug of choice is usually prescription painkillers, the government reported.
The problem was one of the few health issues the CDC was working on that was clearly getting worse, said Dr Thomas Frieden, director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which compiled the data.
"Mothers, wives, sisters and daughters are dying at rates that we have never seen before," he said on Tuesday.
For many decades, the overwhelming majority of US overdose deaths were men killed by heroin or cocaine. But by 2010, 40 per cent were women - most of them middle-aged - who took prescription painkillers.
Skyrocketing female overdose death rates are closely tied to a boom in the overall use of prescribed painkillers. The report is the CDC's first to spotlight how the death trend has been more dramatic among women.
The CDC found that the number and rate of prescription painkiller overdose deaths among females increased fivefold from 1999 to 2010. Among men, such deaths rose about 3.5 times.
Overall, more men still die from overdoses of painkillers and other drugs; there were about 23,000 such deaths in 2010, compared with 15,300 for women.
The CDC report focuses on prescription opioids like Vicodin and OxyContin and their generic forms, methadone, and a powerful newer drug called Opana, or oxymorphone.
"These are dangerous medications and they should be reserved for situations like severe cancer pain," Frieden said.