International Women’s Day: How Opioid Addiction Disproportionately Affects Women and Mothers

International Women’s Day, celebrated March 8 around the world, is an opportunity to further educate and empower women, as well as discuss topics that disproportionately affect them. The stigma of Opioid addiction, prescription drug misuse, and fatal overdose all affect women differently than men, and decades of public health data is now being used to prove it.

Prescription opioid-related overdose deaths among women increased nearly 600% between 1999 and 2016, compared to 312% among men.

Opioid Addiction and Women

While men have historically abused Opioids at higher rates than women, studies show the negative consequences often affect women more so than men–on multiple biological, social, and economic levels. Women are more likely to be given prescription Opioids (like OxyContin® and Vicodin®) by their doctor, usually for chronic pain. Additionally, evidence shows the drugs can have more pronounced effects on women due to hormonal differences.

In 2016, 19 women died every day from prescription Opioid overdose–7,109 women in total. Women between 45 and 54 years-old are most likely to die from a prescription Opioid-related overdose.

For the women whose addictions force them to turn to Heroin, they are less likely than men to inject it. However, they are more likely to die of overdose during their first few years of use. Yet, when women finally decide to quit and seek recovery, it can be much harder for them to find the right treatment due to social stigma surrounding addiction.

To empower women and their right to existing health care, communities need to focus on removing the stigma that addiction is a cumulation of poor behavior and bad decisions. Opioid addiction is a biological change in the brain and requires medical attention to treat.

Improving Women’s Access to Appropriate Care

Once a woman develops an addiction that requires treatment, she often has a harder time finding treatment that doesn’t disrupt her work or family life. Approximately 70% of women entering addiction treatment have children, and many women are the head of single-parent households. Traveling out of her city, away from her job, and away from her home is often not an option for women who need rehab.

Providing access to addiction treatment within their community, as well as access to treatment centers with programs for mothers and children, can help women regain their health and self-reliance without sacrificing their livelihood.