Overdose deaths skyrocket in middle-aged women

Drug Overdose Death Rates in US Women Rise 260% in 2 Decades

A new report from the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that drug overdose deaths among American women between 30 to 64 years old have skyrocketed in the past two decades.

From 1999 to 2017, the drug overdose death rate among women 30 to 64 years old climbed more than 260%, according to the report published Thursday. By 2017, that rate had risen to 24.3 deaths per 100,000 women, meaning 18,110 women in the selected age group died from an overdose that year.

Prescription opioid-related deaths also increased for women aged 30 to 64 between 1999 and 2017, the CDC said, adding the largest increase was among women aged 55 to 64.

Overdoses involving opioids (including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl) killed more than 47,000 people in the USA in 2017.

In fact, the average age of death from overdose crept up by about three years over the course of the study period.

Glatter notes that while men have higher rates of use or dependence on illicit drugs and alcohol compared with women, data also indicates that women are just as likely as men to develop a substance use disorder.

Glatter explained that substance use in women tend to progress more rapidly, and women often find withdrawal more intense.

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The drug overdose death rates also increased for all drug categories, with notable surges in rates of deaths involving synthetic opioids, at 1,643%; heroin, at 915%; and benzodiazepines, at 830%, the researchers found. The data came from the National Vital Statistics System, which is based on information from death certificates. Often, overdoses involved multiple drugs.

Men may be more likely than women to use nearly all types of illicit drugs, but women are just as likely as men to develop a substance use disorder, and women may be more susceptible to craving and relapse - key phases of the addiction cycle, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

"Specific groups of Americans are exquisitely vulnerable to the catastrophic consequences of the opioid epidemic", Dr. Harshal D. Kirane, director of addiction services at Staten Island University Hospital in NY, told CBS News.

Both Glatter and Kirane say this starts with increased access to addiction care.

"People with untreated or undertreated depression or anxiety are at higher risk for substance abuse, with middle-aged women in this demographic at higher risk for opiate as well as benzodiazepine abuse", Glatter said. "Women who are victims of domestic violence are also at higher risk of substance abuse".

Crucial to these efforts are boosting women's access to education about overdose, allowing them easy access to the overdose antidote naloxone, and widening the availability of medication-assisted treatments aimed at weaning people off addictive drugs, Kirane said.

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on opioid addiction.

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