How Are Middle-Aged Women Affected By Opioids?

By Kelly Burch 09/29/17

A new report found that surgery may be the gateway to opioid dependence for middle-aged women.

a group of women hanging out and laughing.

The opioid epidemic is killing people in all demographics across the United States, but a new report shows that middle-aged women are prescribed the most opioids—nearly double the amount that middle-aged men are given—and that this group is also at high risk for developing dependence and addiction. 

The report, entitled, “United States for Non-Dependence,” analyzed opiate prescribing around the country using data from 78,000 patients at 600 hospitals. The report found that women ages 40 to 59 are at high risk, a demographic that most people don’t consider likely to become addicted. 

Even the women themselves may not realize the potential health effects of opioids. 

"Growing up you don’t think of that ... you know you’re not going to do street drugs, and you know you're not going to be an alcoholic," Kristina Crews Miller, a Florida mom who became addicted to opioids, told ABC News.

Crews Miller was given a prescription after having minor surgery on her ovaries. She said that she trusted the doctor to know what was best for her. "I went to my family doctor, who I was referred to after a minor surgery," she said. "There was a new doctor, and he prescribed me my first prescription of Oxycontin, right after surgery.”

She quickly became addicted to the powerful opioids. She went on to overdose twice in front of her children. 

The report also found that opioid use is strongly tied to surgery. Three million people become consistent opioid users each year, continuing the drugs for longer than their initial prescription. Colectomy and knee replacements were the procedures that left patients most vulnerable to long-term opioid use. 

"What's startling and really bothersome in this study is the number of patients that are on opioids well after the surgery's been completed," said Dr. Jennifer Holder-Murray, co-director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Enhanced Recovery After Surgery Program. 

The results are deadly. "More people die from prescription opioid overdose than from heroin overdose per year," she said. 

The report estimates that a 10% reduction in the number of opioids prescribed could result in 300,000 fewer consistent users each year.

The reduction would also result in a savings of $830 million in drug costs alone. There was a 6% reduction in prescribing of opioids between 2015 to 2016, a good sign for people who are concerned about the pervasiveness of these drugs. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.