Drug over­dose deaths among Amer­i­can women have more than tripled since 1999

Lodi News-Sentinel - - NATION - By Melissa Healy

For many decades, drugs of abuse were a me­nace that mostly threat­ened the lives of men. In 1999, fewer than 1 in 25,000 adult women in the United States died of a drug over­dose, and child­birth was twice as deadly.

No more. Drug over­doses have be­come a prodi­gious thief of fe­male lives in the U.S. And they are in­creas­ingly claim­ing women’s lives deep into mid­dle age, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port from the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion.

Of the 70,237 fa­tal drug over­doses in the United States dur­ing 2017, 18,110 of the vic­tims were women be­tween the ages of 30 and 64, records from the National Vi­tal Sta­tis­tics Sys­tem show. That’s up from 4,314 in 1999.

Some of the steep­est in­creases in fa­tal­ity rates have been seen in women who may not fit the pub­lic’s ex­pec­ta­tions of drug abusers. For in­stance, the rate of drug over­dose deaths among women ages 55 to 64 mul­ti­plied by a fac­tor of five be­tween 1999 and 2017, driven by a ten­fold in­crease in the rate of pre­scrip­tion opi­oid deaths.

The find­ing that women well be­yond mid­dle age are mis­us­ing pre­scrip­tion drugs, abus­ing il­licit drugs and prob­a­bly tak­ing dan­ger­ous drug com­bi­na­tions is more than just a cu­rios­ity. Added to an 80 per­cent rise in sui­cide rates among 45-to-64year-old women since around the turn of the cen­tury, it sug­gests that daugh­ters, wives, moth­ers and grand­moth­ers are bear­ing greater strains than they have in the past.

Along with rising death rates of al­co­hol-re­lated dis­eases among women, fa­tal over­doses are some­times re­ferred to as “deaths of de­spair.” In the last three years, they have be­gun to re­verse decades of gains made in the na­tion’s life ex­pectancy.

The study in Fri­day’s edi­tion of the Mor­bid­ity and Mor­tal­ity Weekly Re­port also sug­gests that U.S. women are re­spond­ing to stress in ways that are clos­ing the long­stand­ing gaps be­tween men and women when it comes to self-harm, sub­stance abuse and risk-tak­ing be­hav­ior.

For in­stance, the team from the CDC’s National Cen­ter for In­jury Preven­tion and Con­trol found that, just as for men, the rate of fa­tal over­doses in­volv­ing syn­thetic opi­oids spiked sharply in 2015. Women’s deaths at­trib­uted to these drugs — in­clud­ing fen­tanyl and tra­madol — grew 16-fold in the 18 years lead­ing up to 2017.

Deaths linked to heroin and ben­zo­di­azepines, a class of pre­scrip­tion anti-anx­i­ety drugs, also rose sharply, in­creas­ing 915 per­cent and 830 per­cent, re­spec­tively, be­tween 1999 and 2017. Fa­tal over­doses of co­caine and an­tide­pres­sants also grew, al­beit more slowly.

In 1999, the U.S. women at great­est risk of a fa­tal drug over­dose were be­tween the ages of 40 and 44. But back then, the risk of dy­ing from an over­dose dropped off sharply after a woman’s 50th birth­day.

Over the next 18 years, the rate of fa­tal over­doses rose for Amer­i­can women in all the age brack­ets be­tween 30 and 64. But by 2017, they were high­est among women in their early- to mid-50s. As a re­sult, the av­er­age age of death due to a drug over­dose rose from 43.5 to 46.5.

Over­doses among Amer­i­can women “con­tinue to be un­ac­cept­ably high,” the au­thors of the new re­port wrote.

The study also makes clear that as med­i­cal and pub­lic health pro­fes­sion­als strug­gle to stem a national epi­demic of drug over­doses, they must pay par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to women — and to a wider range of women than they have in the past.

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