Jan 10, 2019, 1:02 PM ET

Drug overdose deaths among women ages 30–64 in the United States increased by 260 percent: CDC

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As the number of drug overdose deaths continues to rise, the social awareness of the epidemic has as well. Even celebrities are opening about their addiction issues.

The drug epidemic, however, has affected far more people than previously thought. Death by drug overdose is classically more common in men but a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday shows that women, specifically middle-aged women, are also increasingly affected.

Prescription pill overdose rates are now rising more sharply in women.

Prescription painkillers are opioid narcotic drugs such as Vicodin (hydrocodone), Dilaudid (hydromorphone) and Oxycontin or Percocet (oxycodone). Per the CDC, for every death of a woman taking these drugs, there are 30 more women who end up at an emergency department due to abuse of these drugs.

There was also a drastic increase in death from the use of illegal opioids such as fentanyl and heroin. The overall death rate in women within this age group has increased by 260 percent from 1999 to 2017. But the rate of death has notably increased the most with synthetic opioids. In fact, the death rate from fentanyl increased by 1,643 percent and 915 percent from heroin during this time period.

The exact cause of why women are now disproportionately becoming more affected is unknown. We do know that women who are victims of domestic violence or who have undergone a traumatic life experience such as divorce or loss of a partner or child are more likely to abuse substances. Anxiety, depression and panic attacks are also commonly present with drug abuse.

Women can become addicted faster than men despite using less drugs.

Research has shown that sex hormones can make women more sensitive to the effects of certain drugs. Women tend to use a smaller amount of drugs for a shorter period of time before developing drug cravings and becoming addicted. They are also more likely to relapse after treatment.

Educating doctors and the public about the specific risks in women is the first step in combating this growing problem.

The CDC report has highlighted the need for efforts aimed at decreasing these death rates in vulnerable populations such as middle-aged women. Women with depression, anxiety or pain should be approached with a discussion that includes the consideration of unique biopsychosocial circumstances to attempt to prevent the development of addiction in the first place.

Azka Afzal, MD, is a resident physician at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and is a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.

News - Drug overdose deaths among women ages 30–64 in the United States increased by 260 percent: CDC

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CComments

  • Tanny Martin

    your link is to a report on chronic kidney disease.
    Would also be helpful to know overall rates for comparison
    Prescription related deaths have been decreasing since at least 2015.

  • Ratwrangler

    A few years ago I underwent hernia surgery. The doctor gave me hydrocodone for the pain. I did not feel it necessary to take any of them, as ibuprofen handled the pain well enough. I weighed about 200 pounds at the time. A few months later, a female friend of mine damaged a knee and required surgery. The doctor prescribed hydrocodone for her pain. He prescribed the same dosage as I had received, even though my friend is little more than half my mass. Fortunately, she only had to take them a couple of times, and wound up disposing of the rest. Several people have commented that the drug companies had misled the doctors as well as the people regarding the addictiveness of some of these drugs, but I managed to track down some Physician's Desk Reference books from the late 1970s and into the 1980s, and addiction is mentioned quite strongly in several drug descriptions even back then. Perhaps the pharmaceutical reps were misleading the doctors when they took them to fancy restaurants and stage plays, but the facts have always been there, and it is a doctor's job to examine them.

  • MVRocks

    Where are people getting enough pain meds to become addicted? I had a bad knee injury almost two years ago. Could barely function and in terrible pain. My ortho doc would barely give me anything. He prescribed me hydrocodone once over the course of several months. Twenty of them in total. He was so greedy with the pain meds I only took them when it was really unbearable so two years later I've still got 11 left out of those 20 sitting in my cabinet. I guess they affect people differently because I never felt like they took away any pain. I've been prescribed several kinds over the years and never felt like they helped with pain. All they do for me is make me feel weird and vomit. Can't even keep a sip of water down unless I take prescription anti-nausea pills with them. Maybe I'm lucky they affect me like that.

  • Arryandan

    It's time to treat this like a disease, not a criminal activity.

  • s DAN

    From drugs not coming thru our southern boarder...……….

  • thenitenurse

    Face it the drug companies who developed these drugs mislead not only the medical community but general public on how addictive these opioids are. You can't make money unless you have steady customers for your product. Like with cigarettes they had to steadily increase the amount of nicotine in them so they craved them more. I hope the lawyers who are bringing up class action lawsuits against these companies crush them like they did the cigarette companies.

  • WaismannMethod Rapid Detox

    We have a crisis of people suffering from untreated emotional issues. There are more reported cases of women suffering from depression than men so it's not a far leap that more women are affected by overdose. People are using opioids because they numb physical and emotional pain. They then develop an addiction on top of the original problem, further complicating their condition. We must ensure that we are treating the whole person and not just the symptoms.

  • America Joe

    Doctors passed out opiates like candy for a decade then cut everyone off. Now those dependent are finding deadly replacements on the street. It is great to remove the pill mills, but they scared doctors enough to stop prescribing even if the reason is legitimate. This will continue unfortunately.

  • Southern CT

    This is a problem that far too many face. sad.