Women have an increased risk for opioid misuse and addiction due to a number of factors. Middle-age and older women especially should be cautious when taking prescription opioids to mitigate their risk.
Women may perceive some forms of pain more intensely than men, and it is usually more socially acceptable for women to complain of pain.
Women are also more likely to have conditions that lead to chronic pain: osteoarthritis, inflammatory arthritis, low-impact fractures and injuries from intimate partner violence.
The brain's opioid receptors respond differently to opioids in men and women. After taking an opioid, the onset of pain relief is typically slower in women than men.
This may lead women to take more opioids than prescribed in an attempt obtain pain relief. This can also lead to women developing an opioid addiction more rapidly than men, even when using lower doses for shorter time periods.
For adults taking prescription painkillers, it’s important to take them safely to avoid addiction or overdose.
Don’t share prescription drugs with others. It is against the law to share your controlled substance medication with anyone.
Always double check the label to be sure you’re taking the correct pill.
Take your medications only as long as they’re needed, and never more than directed by your healthcare provider.
Don’t crush pills unless you have been instructed to do so by your healthcare provider.
Women are more likely than men to experience opioid overdose, and women are more likely to have an active opioid prescription at the time of death by overdose.
The average age of women experiencing fatal opioid-related overdoses is increasing, with women age 55-64 at the highest risk of overdose.
Women are more likely to be prescribed opioids, and women are more likely to receive the dangerous combination of opioids and benzodiazepines.
Opioids and benzodiazepines both work as depressants. When used together, the effects can slow breathing substantially and increase the risk for overdose.
Women who take prescription opioids and become pregnant are at risk of delivering a baby with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). NAS occurs in up to 94% of newborns whose mothers used opioids during pregnancy.
Newborn babies exposed to opioids in the womb may experience withdrawal symptoms, be born prematurely, have a low birthweight, experience breathing and feeding problems, and even die. Newborn withdrawal may last from several days to several months, and treatment varies.
If you find out you are pregnant and are taking prescription opioids:
1-800-CHILDREN is a free, statewide, anonymous, information and referral service. Call to get more information about healthcare options for a healthy pregnancy.