The opioid crisis is having a profound effect on women. Here’s why women are faring worse than men when it comes to addiction and opioid overdose deaths.
According to a recent article in the LA Times, the opioid crisis death toll is larger for women than it is for men. Deaths among women due to opioid overdose have increased by 400 percent in recent years, compared to an increase of 254 percent for men. The reasons why the opioid crisis is taking a heavier toll on women are many, and they’re complex.
Health Disparities Between Men and Women
A recent study by the bipartisan Milken Institute found that opioid prescriptions are most numerous in states where health disparities between men and women are the greatest. Case in point is Alabama, which has the largest disparity between health outcomes for men and women. Alabama is also the state that writes the most opioid prescriptions, clocking in at 125 prescriptions written for every 100 residents.
The quality of healthcare in states where disparities are greatest leaves much to be desired for both men and women, according to Ken Sagynbekov, a health economist who authored the study. Because women are more likely than men to develop chronic pain and diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and mental health problems, improving the overall quality of health care in these states is essential for combatting the opioid crisis and reducing its impact on women.
Unfortunately, the current administration appears to be working hard to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and end funding for CHIP, both of which help women and children access medical care. In 2018, the GOP plans to enact deep cuts to medicare and medicaid, further reducing access to healthcare for the populations who need it most.
Outdated Prescribing Practices for Women
Another important piece of the puzzle involves the way opioids are prescribed to women, according to Sagynbekov. Women experience more pain than men, but they’re often prescribed a one-size-fits-all dose of opioids to relieve the pain. But these dosages are often higher than many women need, given their smaller size and lower body weight compared to men. Additionally, women are likely to be given long-lasting opioid medications, which increases the risk of developing an addiction.
How Addiction Affects Women Compared to Men
While men are more likely than women to become addicted, women develop health problems and other devastating consequences of addiction faster than men do, according to Harvard University. These include health problems, social problems like poverty and relationship dysfunction, and opioid overdose deaths. Women are also more likely to have chronic stress, a history of sexual trauma, and a co-occurring mental illness, all of which are common underlying causes of addiction.
These issues have a major impact on families and children. Because women are typically the caretakers of children, addiction in women has a far greater impact on the family and on future generations than addiction in men. Children of addicted parents are nearly four times more likely than children of non-addicted parents to abuse drugs and alcohol themselves down the road, and they’re more likely to suffer from behavioral problems and learning disabilities.
Additionally, addicted women give birth to addicted babies, and this exacts a major toll on the next generation in the form of more medical and mental health problems that will increase medical costs and create greater social burdens in the coming decades.
Part of the Answer is Better Healthcare and Better Access to Treatment
The opioid crisis claims 91 lives every single day, and it destroys countless other lives. There isn’t just one answer to the opioid crisis death toll or the opioid crisis itself. It will take chipping away at it from a variety of angles to stem the tide. One of those angles is to improve healthcare and access to treatment. But with the recent repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate in the GOP’s new tax plan, along with planned cuts to medicare and medicaid, access to quality, affordable healthcare is expected to drop considerably in the coming years, just when America needs it the most. The current administration has also tried, so far without success, to eliminate the essential benefits that insurance plans are currently required to cover, including addiction treatment and mental health care.
According to Sagynbekov, pushing back on cuts to healthcare–and succeeding–will be instrumental in reducing the health disparity between men and women and ensuring that all people who need help overcoming an opioid addiction will be able to access it. Without access to quality healthcare and treatment, the opioid crisis will only get worse.
If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.