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Middle-aged women prescribed more opioid painkillers, study finds

September 29, 2017

A recent study is adding a new face to the growing opioid crisis. 

According to findings by United States For Non-Dependence women aged 40 to 59 are being prescribed more opioid pain  medication than any other group, making them more vulnerable to abuse and addiction.

The results aren’t surprising to Rushford Medical Director J. Craig Allen, MD.

“There is an erroneous assumption that women are less likely to become addicted than men and that someone who may get  addicted can be identified by the way they look or act”. 

In 2009, Wallingford was one of two Connecticut cities identified as having one of  the highest opioid overdose rates in the country . Traci Green, PHD from the Brown Department of Psychiatry was funded by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration(SAMHSA)and the Center for Disease Control to complete a Rapid Assessment and Response (RAR) project pulling together a community advisory board to determine who was dying, why and what actions could be taken immediately to address the issue.  That work identified highest risk group as Caucasian females aged 35-54.

Allen also cites a recent study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that shows the rate of deaths attributed to prescription opioid overdoses increased by 471 percent in women compared to 218 percent among men between 1999 and 2015.

And, while there are still more men addicted to prescription opioid pain medication than women, Allen says the increase in abuse and overdose in women should be frightening.

“Research shows that women develop addictive disorders quicker and at lower doses of opioid pain medications than men and also are more vulnerable to other comorbidities including overdose,” Allen says.

Allen agrees that Connecticut officials and physicians have made strides in addressing the crisis but says more needs to be done to educate doctors about who is highest risk. He notes that personal or family addiction history, active psychiatric issues, trauma history, and age are also risk factors that should be considered

“If you’re prescribing any type of medication you want to know who is most likely to have a side effect.  If it’s opioid analgesics, where a side effect is addiction and or overdose, identifying and modifying one’s treatment approach is essential,” he says.