Female Opiate Related Deaths is Skyrocketing

The rate of opiate deaths in women is alarming.

While men still die more often from drug overdose than women, the rise in female addict deaths have gone up more than 400% in the last decade. Currently, around 17,000 people die each year from taking too much of a pharmaceutically manufactured drug. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every day in the United States, 42 women die because of a drug overdose, generally a combination of prescriptions like an opiate plus an antidepressant that has all been mixed with alcohol. Of those 42, 18 of the deaths are directly attributed to prescription painkillers, meaning just opiates.

The CDC is addressing the problem by asking doctors to be more selective when prescribing opiate drugs like Percocet, Vicodin, and OxyContin. The director of the CDC, Dr. Tom Frieden says, “Prescription painkiller deaths have skyrocketed in women. Stopping this epidemic in women — and in men — is everyone’s business. Doctors need to be cautious about prescribing and patients about using these drugs.”

Online databases, which track every prescription written for an opiate throughout an entire state, are one effort being used to decrease the amount of drugs that are being given to women who are already addicted. If an addict sees one doctor for a prescription painkiller, she is entered into the database. If that same woman goes to another doctor seeking another prescription for the same pain, the second doctor will see the prior script and no longer also prescribe.

The state-limited databases will hopefully be connectable nationally, and will hopefully reduce the number of opiate deaths in women, but other efforts are needed to save these female addicts’ lives.

Women who abuse substances have a very different set of needs in treatment than their male counterparts. Dr. Leigh Vinocur, an emergency medical physician in Baltimore and Shreveport, Louisiana, and a spokeswoman for the American College of Emergency Physicians, believes that, “The unique stresses that women face may factor into the spike in prescription opiate use.” Women are expected to look a certain way and to perform a specific set of functions everyday. The pressure to “have it all” or to be a working mother is leading far too many women to prescription opiate addiction.

Gender-specific treatment is recommended for female opiate addicts. Prescription painkillers have been providing only a band-aid of sorts for deep emotional wounds of past trauma. Women need women in order to heal and to choose a life without drugs.

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