Canaan, CT – Middle-aged women are overdosing in record numbers, highlighting the need for more treatment programs for women as well as increased awareness about the risks of drug use.
Women represent approximately 40 percent of drug users in America. According to a 2019 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of drug overdose fatalities among middle-aged women between the ages of 30 and 64 years old rose by 260 percent, from 6.7 deaths per 100,000 population in 1999 to 24.3 deaths in 2017. The number of overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines, heroin, cocaine, and synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, all increased during this time.
During the same 18-year period, overdose deaths involving any opioids skyrocketed by 492 percent among women, from 2.6 fatalities per 100,000 population in 1999 to 15.5 fatalities in 2017. Overdose fatalities involving benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, increased even more considerably. The benzodiazepine mortality rate rose by 830 percent, from 0.54 per 100,000 population in 1999 to 5.02 in 2017.
The CDC notes that women aged 25 to 54 face greater odds of an emergency room visit after misusing prescription opioids. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, women more commonly use prescription opioids and benzodiazepines to treat anxiety symptoms than their male counterparts.
Aside from their higher risk of experiencing anxiety symptoms, other gender-specific barriers can complicate women’s recovery from drug addiction. Female drug users are more likely to develop HIV and encounter intimate partner violence linked to their use. For those already struggling with addiction, an HIV positive diagnosis can contribute to a greater sense of stigma – even within the recovery community. This added stressor can cause women living with HIV to feel isolated and hopeless, deterring many from seeking addiction treatment.
Gender norms similarly contribute to a heightened sense of shame among addicted women. Women with substance use disorders may experience greater stigma if they do not fit the mold of the “perfect” caretaker. The pressures of marriage and motherhood cause many women to feel guilty for taking time to address their own health and self-care, discouraging many from pursuing treatment.
“The public needs to recognize that addiction doesn’t discriminate. The opioid crisis has impacted countless Americans, but it’s important to remember that other types of drugs can also compromise well-being,” says Amy Sedgwick, Director of Clinical Operations at Mountainside. “In light of the growing number of drug overdoses among women, treatment centers should make every effort to empower female clients and create a welcoming environment suited to their needs.”