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How Women Became Affected by Opioid Epidemic

As the government begins to fan the spark for treatment programs, opioid addictions continue to elude these initiatives as studies show just how vast this drug trend is.

In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report that correlated the widespread of prescription drugs among women ages 15 to 44. According to the press release, the most commonly prescribed medications among women of reproductive age were hydrocodone, codeine, and oxycodone.

In the release, CDC researchers compared the number of women who filled a prescription opioid medication from 2008 to 2012. The results of the study found that 39 percent of Medicaid-enrolled women filled a prescription pill medication from an outpatient clinic each year in comparison to 29 percent of women with private health insurance.

The study revealed an overall trend in addictive behaviors among women. Depending on the race, ethnicity or geographic location of the woman, the chances for an opioid addiction were higher.

Let’s dig deeper into the relationship between a seemingly fragile gender and an aggressive drug.

Women Become New Targets for Pharma Marketing

shutterstock_102283135In a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Misuse of Prescription Opioid Medication among Women: A Scoping Review,” statistics showed that more women are checking into treatment for prescription pills abuse than men. Nineteen percent of women in comparison to 12 percent of men are seeking treatment for this specific addiction.

The study also reported that between 2004 and 2008, emergency room visits involving opioid misuse raised by 113 percent for women, slightly higher than the 110 percent increase for men.

When presenting the facts for the reasons why women are becoming more affected by prescription pill addictions, the review pointed out that hormonal and health issues may be the culprit between addiction rates among both sexes.

But that still doesn’t solely account for the higher dosages often prescribed to women.

In a Huffington Post article,”Women and Prescription Drugs: The Gender Gap Tightens“, David Sack, MD, wrote that women’s fondness for prescription drugs reaches back to the 1960s and ‘70s when Valium was being marketed as “Mother’s Little Helper” to help women deal with the stress of motherhood.

Sack also found that women are more likely to suffer from chronic pain than men and are 50 percent more likely than their male counterparts to leave a doctor’s office with a prescription.

In essence, women are prescribed painkillers more often than men and for longer periods.

This is where the role of gender norms could play a role in how women are prescribed painkillers.

According to the study, the higher amount of pain pills given to women correlates with the stigma that teaches young children that it’s more acceptable for young girls to express pain than boys.

Research shows that men and women typically identify with masculine standards that make it normal for men to tolerate higher levels of pain than women.

If this is a battle between minds over matter, then decades of psychological ideals coupled with physical factors make the increasing opioid epidemic among women an even greater threat.

According to the CDC, in 2010, nearly 6,600 women died from an overdose, which equates to about 18 women per day. In that same year, prescription painkiller overdoses killed five times more women than in 1999.

Though the numbers are staggering, not all women from every demographic are being affected.

Unlike other drug trends, such as crack, that attracted minority women, this one has its aim at white middle-aged American women.

White Women in Rural Areas More Prone to the Opioid Epidemic

In a Washington Post article, “A new divide in American death,” a six-part examination of the life expectancy gap emerging between women of color and white women found that risky behaviors play a large role in the death polls.

shutterstock_338307665The third part of the series placed a looking glass on the story of one white woman living in rural America, the breeding grounds for prescription pills and heroin addicts.

Jessica Kilpatrick, 33, is a native of Alabama, where prescription pills are prescribed more than any state in the US, who is trying to piece the puzzle of her life back together.

After battling a prescription pill and heroin addiction, Kilpatrick decided to get clean after being sentenced to probation. Yet, the damage done by years of addiction, having her three children taken away, and a minimum wage job barely paying her $600/month rent left her battling a constant fight between her 18-month sobriety and the lure of easily accessible prescription pills.

“They say God won’t give you more than you can handle,” she said in the article. “I’m beginning to wonder.”

According to the Washington Post’s analysis, in the past 15 years, white women’s death rates have increased much faster than any other demographic in the US. In particular, white women living in rural areas, between the ages of 45 and 49, are more likely to die from a drug overdose than suicide.

The opioid problems haunting white women in these areas have several alliances including Purdue Pharma marketing safer prescription pills to women dealing with stress or chronic pain.

Yet, there are still discrepancies when it comes to white women being prescribed prescription pills more often than black or Hispanic women. In an analysis done by the Washington Post, it was found that female participants in a National Health and Nutrition Examination survey were five times more likely to be prescribed a combination of opiates than men.

“An opioid might be prescribed by a pain specialist while a general practitioner of a psychologist may prescribe benzodiazepine. They may not know about one another,” said Deborah Dowell, lead author of the CDC’s new opioid guidelines in the Washington Post’s article, “Risky Alone, Deadly Together.”

Earlier this year, the CDC released a warning to doctors against prescribing opioids along with benzodiazepines to patients not suffering with life-threatening diseases, such as cancer.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also started requiring warning labels on opioids and benzos, instructing patients about the dangers of mixing the two drugs.

But as middle-age white women living in desolate areas continue to face death in the midst of a reckless drug problem, only one question lends itself to the climbing epidemic: Who’s next?

Need Help Finding Treatment?

If you, or a loved one, are suffering from a prescription pill addiction, California Highlands is here to help. Call our 24-7 specialists today to get the right assistance you need to get your life back on track. Call (844) 318-0074 and begin your path to recovery.