14:11, 10.Nov 2018
America's shifting drug epidemic has hit women particularly hard, a new analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.
The drug overdose death rate among women aged 30 to 64 has soared since the turn of the century, climbing from 6.7 deaths per 100,000 in 1999 to 24.3 in 2017 – a 260 percent increase, the data show. Changing drug use patterns and specific drugs associated with these deaths underscore the need for flexible interventions to curb the death toll, researchers say.
"Overdose deaths continue to be unacceptably high, and targeted efforts are needed to reduce the number of deaths in this evolving epidemic," the CDC says.
From 1999 to 2017, the increase in the overall drug death rate among women was driven largely by death rates associated with synthetic opioids, which skyrocketed 1,643 percent; heroin, which rose 915 percent; and benzodiazepines, which climbed 830 percent.
Mortality rates involving antidepressants, prescription opioids and cocaine also rose. Researchers noted that deaths involving more than one drug were counted in several categories, and changes in drug testing and reporting procedures over the years may have led to higher figures for some drug types.
A December CDC report shows that among adults overall, some drugs are commonly used together – intentionally or not. In 2016, about a third of fentanyl-related deaths also involved heroin, and a quarter involved cocaine.
The new analysis also highlights how the drug epidemic affects women at different stages of their lives. Since 1999, the greatest increases in drug mortality have been among women aged 55 to 64 – who experienced a nearly 500 percent jump – followed by those who were 30 to 34 or 50 to 54. Those cohorts saw increases of about 350 percent, while death rates doubled among women age 35 to 39 and 45 to 49.
The average age at death from a drug overdose rose 2.8 years, from 43.5 to 46.3, between 1999 and 2017, according to the CDC, rising for every drug class but one: Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which remained level at 44.2 years.
The rate of prescription opioid deaths among women aged 55 to 64, meanwhile, rose more than 1,000 percent in that time frame.
"As women progress through life, individual experiences can change in the type of substance used or misused and in the experiences of pain that might result in an opioid prescription," researchers say.
Public health efforts in recent years to reduce opioid misuse among women have largely centered on the risks of using opioids during pregnancy, according to the analysis. Babies born to mothers who use opioids may develop neonatal abstinence syndrome – a condition where an infant is born addicted and may suffer withdrawals. The long-term health effects of the condition are unknown.
Yet the CDC says a "multifaceted approach involving the full spectrum of care services" will likely be necessary to curb the drug death toll, ranging from doctors who treat women for pain, depression or anxiety, to state officials who can help improve access to "gender-responsive" addiction treatment services.