Experts Call For Better Opioid Intervention And Treatment For Women
Experts are calling for public health efforts to combat the growing opioid epidemic and overdose deaths in America to better incorporate women’s health issues.
In a commentary published in The Lancet this week, a group of experts emphasized the need for researchers, clinicians, and policymakers to consider the unique ways in which women may encounter opioid abuse or addiction.
“As we tackle this epidemic, we must be sure that action plans fully understand and include the influence of gender differences on pain, opioid use, and addiction,” says David A. Fiellin, director of the Yale Program in Addiction Medicine. “Women and men are not identical, and we must treat all people with attention to their specific risks and clinical needs.”
As an example, the commentary notes that women have been found to have greater sensitivity to pain compared to men and are more likely to begin their misuse of opioids through legitimate medical treatment.
Additionally, women are statistically more likely to be prescribed opioids while simultaneously being prescribed medications that could cause overdose when combined.
The experts also cite a 2016 study that found that women were three times less likely to be administered a dose of the life-saving drug naloxone by emergency medical services in cases of opioid overdose.
Current efforts also do little to consider the unique risks of pregnant women and their newborns for health complications, while up to 26% of pregnant women entering addiction treatment report abusing opioids.
There is also evidence that women exposed to addictive substances are more likely to develop a drug use disorder more rapidly than men.
Women also face increased limitations in their social and work lives when seeking treatment for opioid addiction compared to men, making them more at risk for losing their employment or housing.
As the experts explain, most substance use intervention strategies have been developed with men in mind, which has made it less likely for women to enter traditional treatment programs. This explains why women-only programs tend to show better involvement and outcomes.
The authors of the commentary call for insurance companies to increase coverage for non-opioid pain management therapies, and medical practitioners to address the specific needs of women with opioid use disorder. Additionally, they say pregnant women or women with children should be protected so they could seek treatment without potentially losing child custody.
“Both women and men are suffering from addiction to opioids across the United States, across Canada, and increasingly internationally,” says Carolyn M. Mazure, director of Women’s Health Research. “But women and men experience different paths to addiction and possess different treatment needs. It is imperative that we understand these differences if we are to help people and save lives.”