All-Female Task Force Sets Out To Tackle Opioid Addiction

By Dorri Olds 06/28/16

The task force announced the launch of its new non-profit organization, which aims to fight stigma and treatment barriers that face those with addiction.

All-Female Task Force Sets Out To Tackle Opioid Addiction

On June 23 in Washington, D.C., an all-female task force gathered to announce the founding of the Female Opioid-Addiction Research and Clinical Experts (FORCE)—a group created by scientific, health policy and medical experts who specialize in opioid addiction research and treatment. FORCE's mission is to reduce stigma and barriers to treatment for people dealing with opioid addiction.

Two women were honored at Thursday's press conference. They were presented with the 2016 FORCE Award for their valuable contributions in fighting opioid addiction.

One of the award recipients was Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Dr. Volkow has been instrumental in demonstrating that addiction is a disease of the brain, and not a moral failing. “Opioid dependency is about chemistry, not character,” said Dr. Volkow, according to the Washington Times.

Dr. Leana Wen, also an award recipient, is the Baltimore City Health Commissioner. Last fall she issued a standing order that expanded access to Narcan for Baltimore residents. Her feeling was that every first aid kit and every medicine cabinet should include the lifesaving drug.

In April, on the PBS interview series The Open Mind, Dr. Volkow said that many addicts take on society’s stigma and feel ashamed and are afraid to seek treatment. “That stigma leaves the physician or the healthcare system not to want to address it,” she said on the program. “And that stigma leads to actually not identifying the resources that are necessary because it’s not considered a condition or a disease as other diseases like Alzheimer’s or cancer, where everybody feels immediate empathy.” She called opioid addiction "one of the most devastating diseases," and described the plight of the addict. “No matter how hard you try … you’re ashamed of that and you blame yourself. What other disease does that?”

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, “Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., with 47,055 lethal drug overdoses in 2014. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 10,574 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2014.”

Every three minutes, a woman goes to the emergency room for opioid misuse or abuse, according to 2010 federal data, and about 42 women die everyday from a drug overdose.

Speaking to the Washington Times, FORCE member Behshad Sheldon, who is also president and CEO of Braeburn Pharmaceuticals, said women are on pace to catch up to men when it comes to substance abuse. Which is why, as FORCE members suggested to the Times, part of the new organization's focus is to address opioid abuse among women. 

According to the NIDA, women face a variety of issues that are unique to them when it comes to using or abusing substances, caused by factors including sex hormones and societal pressures.

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Dorri Olds is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times, Marie Claire, Woman’s Day and several book anthologies. Find Dorri on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.