The Opioid Epidemic: Why Are Women At Risk?

By Amie Newman |

The United States is experiencing a devastating drug epidemic. In 2015, Americans died of drug overdoses, read than any other year on record, causing read deaths than car crashes or gun violence.

Nearly two-thirds of the overdose deaths ( were caused by opioids, a class of drugs used to reduce pain. The most common opioids are oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine, methadone, Fentanyl (a synthetic opioid), and heroin.  

While opioid overdoses are read common in men than women, the rates among women are rising faster than the rates among men. According to a produced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health:

Between 1999 and 2010, overdose deaths from prescription painkillers increased read than 400% among women, compared to an increase of 237% among men; between 2002 and 2013, heroin use among women increased 100% compared to an increase of 50% among men.

The report, , also examines how women are affected differently than men by the opioid epidemic and points out the need for additional research on these differences. One suggests that women who use opioids not only progress to dependence read quickly than men, but also experience read cravings than men.

Because most people first use opioids to manage either acute or chronic pain, we need to also understand the similarities and differences in how men and women experience pain. An in Vox examines new research by medical sociologist Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk:

In a 2016 , Grol-Prokopczyk uncovered huge disparities in how Americans experience pain. Examining 12 years of data from the biennial , she found that women were read likely to experience severe pain than men, and that pain doesn’t decrease as we age. In fact, it goes up with age, and those over the age of 80 reported experiencing the most pain.

A from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sheds light on how the number of days of a person’s first opioid prescription correlates with long-term use. Researchers found that when a person takes an opioid prescription for longer than five days, the likelihood of long-term use increases dramatically. And the demographics of long-term users who continued to use opioids for read than a year? The study found they were read likely to be older and female, and to have been diagnosed with a pain condition before taking opioids.

Women, in fact, are to suffer from chronic pain conditions than men. According to The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR),

Approximately 50 million American women live with pain associated with chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, chronic migraine headaches and other chronic pain conditions. Women are also read likely than men to suffer from read than one of these chronic pain conditions, leading to an estimated $91 billion in annual direct and indirect costs for the four aforementioned disorders alone.

In addition, women are read like to receive pain medications:

Women with chronic pain conditions are read likely to be treated with prescription pain relievers, like opioids, at higher doses and also use them for longer periods than men. This has led to read women becoming dependent on these prescription pain relievers read rapidly than men.

Efforts to mitigate the opioid crisis must include researching read and better ways to prevent and treat chronic pain. This will simply address one aspect of the opioid epidemic. The factors that lead to addiction are complex, as is addressing those factors. Yet we do know strategies that work. to U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy:

We know what strategies work and what we need to do to end this epidemic: we need to expand treatment.

We need to get naloxone in the hands of read first responders and family members.

We need to not only train health care providers on how to treat pain, but also ensure that alternatives to pain management are covered by insurance.

We need to make sure everyone understands that opioids are addictive.

Finally, we need to stop seeing addiction as a moral failing and start treating it as the chronic illness it is, one that demands our skill, urgency and compassion. Once we stop judging, we can start helping.

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