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Fatal Drug ODs Soaring Among Middle-Aged Women

February 11 , 2019 02:16 pm
worried woman

The rate at which middle-aged American women die from overdoses involving opioids and other drugs nearly quadrupled between 1999 and 2017, new government data shows.

In 1999, about seven out of every 100,000 deaths among U.S. women aged 30 to 64 was caused by a drug overdose, but by 2017 that rate had risen to about 24 women per 100,000 -- a 260 percent increase, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

At the same time, rates of fatal ODs from opioids, specifically, rose nearly sixfold for middle-aged women.

The steepest increase was actually seen among older women -- those aged 55 to 64 -- noted a team led by Karin Mack, of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

In fact, the average age of death from overdose crept up by about three years over the course of the study period. In 1999, the average age of a fatal OD in middle-aged women was 43.5 years, but by 2017 it had risen to 46.3 years, Mack's team reported.

The bottom line, the researchers said, is that "efforts are needed to reduce the number of deaths in this evolving epidemic among middle-aged women."

One physician on the frontlines of the overdose crisis said multiple factors are contributing to these tragedies.

"We know that prescription opioids are still the main driver of the current opioid epidemic, but it's important to understand the sharp rise of fentanyl-laced heroin responsible for increased numbers of deaths," said Dr. Robert Glatter. He's an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Fentanyl is an opioid that's thought to be 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.

"Cheap, illicitly manufactured fentanyl from China and Southeast Asia is making its way onto the streets in the U.S.," Glatter explained.

He said that while men tend to have higher rates of drug abuse than women, women can be especially vulnerable.

"Women's substance use tends to progress more rapidly from first-time use until addiction develops," Glatter said. "Withdrawal can also be more intense for women, and they may also respond differently than men to specific medical treatments."

The new CDC study relied on 1999-2017 data from the National Vital Statistics System.

The data revealed that for women aged 30 to 64, deaths linked to "synthetic opioids" -- a class that includes fentanyl -- rose about 17-fold during the study period. Steep increases were also seen for deaths involving heroin (a 10-fold rise), as well as those involving Valium, Xanax or other benzodiazepine drugs (a ninefold rise). Often, overdoses involved multiple drugs.

Why are women in middle age being hit especially hard by the opioid abuse crisis? Addiction specialist Dr. Harshal Kirane had some theories. Learn More

 

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