Over the past 20 years, the opioid overdose rate has skyrocketed among women between 30 and 64 years old, according to new analysis released Thursday by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In that time, drug overdose deaths involving antidepressants, cocaine, heroin, prescription opioids, synthetic opioids and benzodiazepines such as such as Xanax and Valium all increased, the report said. In this age group, the rate of death involving synthetic opioids increased 1,643%, while the rate for heroin rose 915% and for benzodiazepines the rate jumped 830%.
Glatter notes that while men have higher rates of use or dependence on illicit drugs and alcohol compared with women, data also indicates that women are just as likely as men to develop a substance use disorder.
The report showed the rate of drug overdose death in this age group rose by 260 percent over the course of 18 years.
The largest increase in prescription opioid-related deaths was among women 55 to 64, the CDC reported. Overdose drug deaths hit a record high in 2017, killing more than 70,000 men and women.
Glatter explained that substance use in women tend to progress more rapidly, and women often find withdrawal more intense.
"Overdose deaths continue to be unacceptably high, and targeted efforts are needed to reduce the number of deaths in this evolving epidemic among middle-aged women", the researchers wrote.
Some of the steepest increases in fatality rates have been seen in women who may not fit the public's expectations of drug abusers.
The CDC analyzed death certificates from all 50 states in their report.
The researchers also noted that estimates of the drugs involved in overdose deaths can be affected by how each death was investigated.
"People with untreated or undertreated depression or anxiety are at higher risk for substance abuse, with middle-aged women in this demographic at higher risk for opiate as well as benzodiazepine abuse", Glatter said.
"Middle-aged women are often prevented from accessing care due to family responsibilities, child care considerations and financial disparities", said Kirane, who directs addiction services at Staten Island University Hospital in New York City.
"Part of the solution is for people to become more aware of this and for people who are prescribing medications to do a much better job of - particularly when prescribing for women - talking about the risks and the relative risk of addiction", he said.
Both Glatter and Kirane say this starts with increased access to addiction care.
The study in Friday's edition of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report also suggests that US women are responding to stress in ways that are closing the longstanding gaps between men and women when it comes to self-harm, substance abuse and risk-taking behavior.
A staggering number of American women are dying of drug overdoses.