August 31st is International Overdose Awareness Day; a day filled with global activities designed to raise awareness and commemorate those who have been lost to drug overdoses. Since 2012, International Overdose Awareness Day has been coordinated by the not-for-profit Australian public health organization Penington Institute – and you can show your support by wearing a badge or wristband.
International Overdose Awareness Day also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have died or had a permanent injury as a result of drug overdose. And most importantly, it spreads the message that the tragedy of overdose death is preventable.
So how does overdosing affect women? The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports women are just as likely as men to develop a substance use disorder. In addition, women may be more susceptible to craving and relapse, which are key phases of the addiction cycle. In fact, research has shown that women often use drugs differently, respond to drugs differently, and can have unique obstacles to effective treatment as simple as not being able to find childcare or being prescribed treatment that has not been adequately tested on women.
Various drugs have different effects on women.
fewer females than males use marijuana, similar to other addictive drugs. For females who do use marijuana, however, the effects can be different than for male users. Research indicates that marijuana impairs spatial memory in women more than it does in men, while males show a greater marijuana-induced high.
Stimulants (Cocaine & Methamphetamine)
Research in both humans and animals suggests that women may be more vulnerable to the reinforcing (rewarding) effects of stimulants, with estrogen possibly being one factor for this increased sensitivity. Women may also be more sensitive than men to cocaine’s effects on the heart and blood vessels. In contrast, female and male cocaine users show similar deficits in learning, concentration, and academic achievement, even if women had been using it longer. Female cocaine users are also less likely than male users to exhibit abnormalities of blood flow in the brain’s frontal regions. These findings suggest a sex-related mechanism that may protect women from some of the detrimental effects of cocaine on the brain.
MDMA (Ecstasy & Molly)
Research suggests that MDMA produces stronger hallucinatory effects in women compared to men, although men show higher MDMA-induced blood pressure increases. There is some evidence that, in occasional users, women are more prone than men to feeling depressed a few days after they last used MDMA. Both men and women show similar increases in aggression a few days after they stop using MDMA.
Research suggests that women tend to use smaller amounts of heroin and for less time, and are less likely than men to inject it. Most women who inject heroin point to social pressure and sexual partner encouragement as factors.
Some research indicates that women are more sensitive to pain than men and more likely to have chronic pain, which could contribute to the high rates of opioid prescriptions among women of reproductive age. In addition, women may be more likely to take prescription opioids without a prescription to cope with pain, even when men and women report similar pain levels. Research also suggests that women are more likely to misuse prescription opioids to self-treat for other problems such as anxiety or tension.
Anti-Anxiety Meds/Sleeping Aids
Women are more likely to seek treatment for misuse of central nervous system depressants, which include sedatives sometimes prescribed to treat seizures, sleep disorders, and anxiety, and to help people fall asleep prior to surgery. Women are also more likely than men to die from overdoses involving medications for mental health conditions, like antidepressants. Antidepressants and benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety or sleep drugs) send more women than men to emergency departments.
Drinking over the long term is more likely to damage a woman’s health than a man’s, even if the woman has been drinking less alcohol or for a shorter length of time. Comparing people with alcohol use disorders, women have death rates 50 to 100 percent higher than do men, including deaths from suicides, alcohol-related accidents, heart disease, stroke, and liver disease.
The CDC issued a report on fatal overdoses from opioids.
Opioids—prescription and illicit—are the main driver of drug overdose deaths. Opioids were involved in 42,249 deaths in 2016, and opioid overdose deaths were five times higher in 2016 than 1999.
In 2016, the five states with the highest rates of death due to drug overdose were West Virginia (52.0 per 100,000), Ohio (39.1 per 100,000), New Hampshire (39.0 per 100,000), Pennsylvania (37.9 per 100,000) and Kentucky (33.5 per 100,000).
The National Institute on Drug Abuse released their own report on opioid overdose.
Every day, more than 115 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids. The misuse of and addiction to opioids—including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl—is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.
So how did it happen? In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers, and health care providers began to prescribe them at greater rates. This subsequently led to widespread diversion and misuse of these medications before it became clear that these medications could indeed be highly addictive. Opioid overdose rates began to increase. In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died as a result of an opioid overdose, including prescription opioids, heroin, and illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid. That same year, an estimated 2 million people in the United States suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers, and 591,000 suffered from a heroin use disorder (not mutually exclusive).
What do we know about the opioid crisis?
- Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
- Between 8 and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder.
- An estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
- About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.
- Opioid overdoses increased 30 percent from July 2016 through September 2017 in 52 areas in 45 states.
- The Midwestern region saw opioid overdoses increase 70 percent from July 2016 through September 2017.
- Opioid overdoses in large cities increased by 54 percent in 16 states.
The International Overdose Awareness Day silver badge and purple wristband are symbols of awareness of overdose and its effects. Wearing these can signify the loss of someone cherished; it can also demonstrate support to those undergoing grief. It sends out a message that every person’s life is valuable and that stigmatizing people who use drugs needs to stop. There are events also happening right here in Orange County, so don’t hesitate to get involved and show your support and love.