It’s not new news that the country is in the midst of an opioid crisis—but one of the most alarming bits of information to be recently revealed is that the drug overdose rate for women has skyrocketed far more rapidly than average.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) releases a weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report. In one such report, it noted the shocking 260 percent increase in the drug overdose rate among middle-aged women (age 30 to 64) over the past 18 years.
Why Such an Increase in Overdoses?
This rate first began its rapid increase in 1999, when deaths attributable to cocaine, heroin, benzodiazepines (or anti-anxiety medications) and even antidepressants began to rise. With women more likely than men to have a prescription for one or more antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs, women have also borne the brunt of the increased risk of abuse or accidental overdose.
And because monthly fluctuations in female hormones can make it tough to test drugs on women, most lab and efficacy tests only indicate how a certain dose of a certain drug will affect a man—which may be very different than how it affects a woman’s different physiology. Women are no less likely than men to develop a substance use disorder, even though many treatment methods and programs tend mainly to target men. (For example, women might prefer to live in a female-only halfway house, whereas men might be less picky when it comes to co-ed accommodations.)
Some studies have also hinted that women today are drinking more than ever—often not due to addiction, but just sheer force of habit. But these nightly cocktails or weekend benders can take a toll, especially when added to certain drugs that may interact with them badly.
What Can Be Done to Combat This Trend?
For decades, female drug and alcohol addiction was often ignored or overlooked by society and the media. Because some women who struggle with addiction have turned to illicit means to earn an income to support a drug habit, it’s been easy for society to brush off female addiction as generally affecting only those who have suffered serious trauma in their lives.
But as overdoses and drug-related deaths have moved into suburbia, affecting middle and upper-class communities at higher rates than ever before, many have begun to turn a critical eye toward the need for a multi-step approach in combating addiction.
This can include expanding recovery options to better serve women who need to hold down a job or care for their children during treatment, educating doctors and pharmacists on when to prescribe certain drugs and what to look for in potential drug interactions, and increasing public health funding so that the cost of treatment is no longer an obstacle for those in need of help.