by Comprehensive Staff

06/21/2018 10:31 pm

Women and the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid crisis is becoming one of the most talked-about problems of today. To look at the problem from a slant on gender brings about multiple considerations. Statistically it is reported more men are dying of overdose than women, but the death of women by overdose is rapidly increasing. More than 71,800 women have died in the county due to prescription opioid overdose since 1999, according to the Center for Disease Control. The rate of overdose fatality has risen 400 percent in women and 237 percent in men in this time frame.

When we look at the risk of OUD (opioid use disorder) in women, we can look at what opioids provide. Opioid use gives the user a sense of peace, calmness and pleasure—all desirable outcomes to assist with dealing with the demands of motherhood, working, chronic pain, and mental illness.

Women deal with more chronic pain than men (and experience higher rates of depression and anxiety) which may relate to easier to access to prescription opioids. Additionally, twenty percent of women who become dependent often have a history of an eating disorder. Women generally use higher doses than men over longer periods of time. With the concerns from continued use and misuse of opioids, many who experience OUD turn to heroin due to the ease of access, which also means avoiding a trip to the doctor and listening to the opioid rhetoric.

Women tend to try to medicate in response to  stress and demands of life; a substance can provide an easy emotional out while still maintaining a sense of manageability. The feelings of calm and peace are a huge attractions, as is not experiencing any of the physical or emotional pain. The depression and anxiety that can come along with managing a family might feel like they disappear with a little pill. Additionally, some women see use of substances as a means to control weight and to fight exhaustion; the appeal is significant. These are not the heroin users as past perceptions. Heroin use today has a new audience.

Historically men have been the focus of most research, and there has been little research focusing on women. This is starting to change, and the differences are being noted. Research is indicating that women are quicker to become addicted after first use, women have more issues with chronic pain, and women use at higher doses for longer periods of time. The positive side is women do better in recovery and relapse less.

Opioid use in every part of the United States has increased 30 percent from July 2016 to September 2017. At this time when women are making themselves heard, we can anticipate seeing more women in treatment, working to recover their lives and move forward in this focus on strength and recovery.

- Rebecca Twohy, DMHP/CDP, Therapist, Goldendale