According to a recent study from McMasters University in Ontario, Canada, half of female methadone patients originally became addicted to prescription opiates after being prescribed pain killers for chronic pain management.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Canada consumes more opioid painkillers than any other country, with the number of prescriptions doubling in the last 20 years. This recent study looked at gender differences between men and women attending methadone clinics.
“It was found that 52% of women and 38% of men had their first contact with opioid drugs as a result of doctor-prescribed painkillers. Opioid painkillers include prescription medicines such as OxyContin and codeine, as well as illicit drugs such as heroin.”
The differences in demographics and health needs are significant, indicating a changing profile in recent decades of people addicted to opioids.
In the 1990s, the average age of people being treated for opiate addiction was 25 years, and drug use starting at approximately age 21. The average age of patients now is 38, with a start date of using opiates at age 25. There was a huge (60%) decrease in the rate of people injecting drugs which led to a huge (50%) reduction in HIV among opiate users.
The lead investigators reported that it’s not clear why women are affected so much more than men by opioid dependence originating from prescription painkillers. “It could be that they are prescribed them more often due to a lower pain threshold, or because they are more likely than men to seek medical care.”
We’ve been seeing these gender differences for years at drug and alcohol treatment centers and it’s been important to have increased services for women to keep up with their changing needs.