America’s “opioid epidemic” has received much deserved attention to such a degree that we’d assume a solution was close at hand, but that’s not the case. Last year more than 70,000 Americans died of overdoses. Men are still more likely than women to die of an overdose, but the increase in female overdoses is 492% in women 30 to 64 years of age.
There’s no shortage of sobering statistics with every few years being more staggering than the previous. Another from the CDC five years ago: approximately 42 women a day die from a drug overdose.
Why the increase?
Significant focus has been placed on educating women of child-bearing age of the dangers of opioids, but the middle-aged population has gone largely uniformed.
Addiction is still largely seen as a problem which exists many zip codes away, but it’s now becoming apparent the problem may reside next door or in your own medicine cabinet. Lack of understanding, insufficient monitoring of medications by physicians, patient naiveté, and ultimately, many drugs are inherently addictive.
Painkillers are often the culprit
According to a People magazine interview in November 2018, actress Jamie Lee Curtis reflected in hindsight on her drug addiction which began when she was prescribed opioids for minor plastic surgery in 1989 to correct “hereditary puffy eyes.” What resulted was a 10-year run of lying, cheating, stealing, doctor-shopping for the opioids she’d become addicted to. (Spoiler alert: Ms. Curtis celebrates 20 years of happy, productive sobriety in February 2019.)
Dr. David Streem is a professor and section head of the Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Streem says, “Even if you’re using opioids the way your doctor has prescribed, there are serious questions about whether extended use of opioids really improves your ability to function over the long term.”
What should women watch for?
Once we realize the severity of the problem, and the fact it affects urban, rural and suburban women, the next thought is, “What do I watch for?”
Certain risk factors make addiction to;opioids more likely, according to Streem and his colleagues who’ve been following the crisis since it first began.
- Long-term use, which can lead to increased tolerance/dependency
- Higher doses, which increase the likelihood of addiction
- Genetic play a role says Dr. Streem, “Some people have particular genes that predispose them to addiction, whereas other people have genes that make it less likely that they’ll develop an opioid use disorder after being exposed.”
Stigma of female addiction
The world of addiction is filled with gross amounts of misinformation and for women there is an added wrinkle: the stigma of addiction.
From social pressures to the many roles females play, women have a different and larger set of obstacles to overcome. As one female patient stated, “When you’re the person that everyone turns to for help…and you need help…where do you go? And what will people think when you finally do ask for help?!”
This helps explain why women are impacted by addiction at the same rate as men, yet women only account for 33% of admissions to substance use disorder. Furthermore, pregnant addicts face the greatest stigma: One study showed that 25% of pregnant women with an opioid addiction were untreated, and researchers believe stigma was part of the barrier to them receiving help.
If an addicted person feels that they should safely deliver their child first, and address addiction second, in our three decades of treating addiction, this has not been a recommended course of action. The ability to treat addiction with medical, clinical and spiritual solutions while the patient is pregnant has proven to be effective.
For women, by women
All of the points mentioned here are reasons which strongly support substance use disorder programs created by women, for women. And without a doubt, a program that is gender-separate.
Our programs at Hanley Center at Origins in West Palm Beach, Florida and Hannah’s House on South Padre Island, Texas are two such specially designed programs which operate as finely honed programs for women, by women. We welcome the chance to tell you why treating women is different, and why Origins is decidedly different from other treatment centers, call 561-841-1296.