The Scary Truth About Opioid Addiction and Its Biggest Victim: Middle-Aged Women

President Trump recently declared the opioid crisis a national emergency. The most at-risk demographics for opioid abuse are whites, males, 18-25 year olds, and those making fewer than $20,000 per year.

Recently, a new at-risk demographic has become apparent: women.

Opioids are most often prescribed to middle-aged women

Two happy middle aged Caucasian females

Middle-aged women are opioids newest victims. | iStock.com/CREATISTA

Today, the prescription rate for middle-aged women is double the rate for middle aged men, according to a recent study that examined 600 hospitals and 78,000 patients. As a result of this rate, women ages 40 to 59 see more deaths from opioid overdose than any other group of women.

Opioid-related deaths in women have increased more than 400%

Oxycodone pain pills prescribed for a patient with chronic pain lie on display on March 23, 2016 in Norwich, CT.

Opioid deaths have increased faster than heroin deaths. | John Moore/Getty Images

Prescription pain reliever deaths increased faster than heroin deaths in women in the first decade of the 21st century. This is likely because women have such a high prescription rate. This 400% increase between 1999 and 2010 is far higher than the rate in men, which rose by a still-shocking 237% between the same years. A total of 48,000 women died from prescription opioids between 1999 and 2010.

Synthetic opioid-related deaths have increased by 850%

There are alternatives to unsafe drugs.

Synthetic opioids have also become a problem. | iStock.com

Synthetic opioids are different from natural opioids. These opioids are manufactured but still retain the same chemical structure as natural opioids and can be illicit or legally prescribed. Fentanyl, commonly cut into heroin, is a synthetic opioid. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times’ more potent than morphine. Female deaths related to synthetic opioids increased by a startling 850% between 1999 and 2015.

Heroin overdose deaths in women tripled between 2010 and 2013

boyfriend and girlfriend shooting up with heroin syringe

More women use heroin than most of us probably realize. | iStock.com/diego_cervo

The American Society of Addiction Medicine published updated opioid addiction statistics in women in 2016. Among those stats was heroin usage and overdose. Heroin overdose deaths in females had tripled from 2010 through 2013, rising from 0.4 to 1.2 per 100,000.

The gaps between women and more ‘expected’ groups have become narrower

Mature Friends Enjoying Meal

There may be an underlying reason why this epidemic has gained so much traction. | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

According to the CDC, the gaps between male and female, private insurance and Medicaid, and low and high incomes have all narrowed as far as opioid use goes; use is becoming more common among all groups of people. Some have questioned whether or not the effect of opioids on white populations is what has made the fight against the drugs recently gain so much speed.

“In this epidemic, white women have been presented in a more sympathetic way,” psychologist Lula Beatty told Glamour in September 2017. “… Typically, that’s not what happens when it involves people of color.”

‘Telescoping’ is part of what is causing drug abuse in women to skyrocket

two old friends laughing

It takes more time for men to become addicted to an opioid than women. | iStock.com/kazoka30

Telescoping is the progression of time from the first use of a drug to the addiction. Women can use a smaller amount of a drug for a shorter amount of time before becoming dependent. In contrast, men can often use a drug longer before developing an addiction. Basic physiological differences like body fat, metabolic rate, and hormones are what lead to telescoping.

Female abusers likely have a history of trauma

Doctor is making notes while listening to his patient

Trauma is typically a factor when it comes to the likelihood of a woman becoming addicted to an opioid. | iStock.com/vadimguzhva

Out of all women who abuse drugs, anywhere from 55% to 99% reportedly have a history of lifetime trauma. This is drastically higher than the general population’s rate of 36% to 51%. Research has shown that sexual and physical abuse is more common among drug-addicted women than drug-addicted men, and the abuse of women was often the result of someone the women knew or trusted.

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