Opioids are an equal-opportunity health threat, yet women aren’t getting their fair share of help to overcome this form of substance abuse. If you’re a woman with an opioid addiction (or know someone who is), take these steps now. They could save your life.
WHY WOMEN ARE AT GREATER RISK
Many people don’t realize that the opioid epidemic is hitting women as hard as it is men, with troubling distinctions. Women are more sensitive to pain than men and, as a result, are more likely to start taking opioids and get hooked on them sooner than men. Women also are prescribed opioid pain pills more often than men are. In addition, women in general have a telescoped course for substance use disorder—with almost every substance, women get more complications sooner.
Women also are more likely than men to receive prescriptions for other medications such as benzodiazepines, tranquilizers with side effects that, when taken along with opioids, dramatically increase the chances of an overdose.
Yet because the “profile” of an overdose victim still is thought of as a young man, women often don’t get the help they need in this kind of emergency. For instance, according to a report on opioid-related deaths in Rhode Island, EMTs were three times less likely to administer the overdose antidote naloxone (Narcan) to women.
This all translates to an alarming statistic: According to researchers from Yale University, the rate of overdose deaths from opioids among women jumped by 583 percent from 1999 to 2016, compared with a 404 percent increase among men over the same period—that means, women accounted for 50% more deaths than men.
HOW TO HELP YOURSELF NOW
Take the following steps to save your life…
Don’t wait any longer to get help for addiction. Because of responsibilities at home and at work, many women wait too long to seek treatment for opioid abuse—well after they acknowledge that they have a problem. Every three minutes, a woman in the US arrives at an emergency room for prescription painkiller misuse or abuse. Don’t put off getting treatment.
Choose a treatment program sensitive to the needs of women. Look for a program that offers Seeking Safety with a trauma-based approach. It is not designed specifically for women, but since so many women with opioid use disorder have a history of trauma, it is a good option. Effective treatment often combines medical-assisted therapy with counseling. Ask your doctor or therapist for a recommendation if you’re having trouble finding one on your own.
Keep lifesaving naloxone in your home. Given as an injection or nasal spray, naloxone (Narcan) can reverse an opioid overdose. It’s available in many states without a prescription at most major pharmacies. Everyone in the house should know where it is and how to use it. Important: It does not replace getting immediate medical attention—call 911 right after using it.
Note: If you’re still experiencing the condition that first led you to opioids, work with your doctor to control it, ask about alternative medications and consider other steps to conquer pain.