Overdose Death Rates Skyrocket Among Middle-Aged Women

By Paul Gaita 05/31/19

Overdose death rates among women aged 30 to 64 years rose by 260% between 1999 and 2017.

silhouette of a middle-aged woman

A recent news story from KNXV-TV adds a human perspective to recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about a demographic on the rise for national drug overdose deaths.

The Phoenix, Arizona-based ABC affiliate profiled several area women who developed dependencies on drugs or alcohol between the ages of 40 and 64.

Addiction treatment centers in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area reported an increase in admission for women in that age group, which coincides with the CDC's report that overdose death rates among women aged 30 to 64 years rose by 260% between 1999 and 2017.

To determine this statistic, the CDC reported in January 2019 that it had examined overdose death rates for this age group during the aforementioned time period, and categorized these fatalities according to drug subcategories, including antidepressants, cocaine, heroin, prescription opioids and synthetic opioids (except methadone).

From this data, they determined that the unadjusted drug overdose death rate increased from 6.7 deaths per 100,000 population (or 4,314 total drug overdose deaths) in 1999 to 24.3 (or 18,110 deaths) in 2017. 

The rate of overdose deaths involving any opioid increased 492% during this time period, while nearly all subcategories of drugs saw increases in deaths, save for cocaine, which decreased significantly between 2006 and 2009. The highest death rate increases involved synthetic opioids (1,643%), heroin (915%) and benzodiazepines (830%).

Those figures reflect the experiences of the women profiled in the KNXV piece. Pamela Aguilu became dependent on prescription opioids after undergoing spinal surgeries. "I would say that I got addicted right away," she said. "I was taking massive amounts of oxycodone."

Aguilu expressed gratitude that she had not become one of the overdose statistics cited by the CDC. But she certainly came close. After confronting a police officer who had been sent by her landlord, Aguilu said, "The last thing I remember is the ER physician saying we need the Narcan now, and then I was out. I was out for two days."

KNXV also cited Cheryl Hawley, a clinical director at the Valley Hope alcohol and drug treatment center, who said that women between 30 and 64 often put their roles as mother, wife and homemaker ahead of their own health, and then refuse to share their struggles with their families.

Aguilu agrees. "You hit middle age, and you think you've got it all figured out," she said. "We live in a society where we take pills for everything."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.