CDC: Fatal drug overdoses soaring among middle-aged women

It's not clear why women are becoming disproportionately affected

Over the past 20 years, the opioid overdose rate has skyrocketed among women between 30 and 64 years old, according to new analysis released Thursday by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to CDC, "Interventions to address the rise in drug overdose deaths include implementing the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, reviewing records of controlled substance prescribing (e.g., prescription drug monitoring programs, health insurance programs), and developing capacity of drug use disorder treatments and linkage to care, especially for middle-aged women with drug use disorders".

There are startling numbers in our nation's battle against the opioid epidemic as a new report finds a rapid rise in drug overdoses among women - and very often the medications are coming from doctors.

Over the next 18 years, the rate of fatal overdoses rose for American women in all the age brackets between 30 and 64.

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.

The report concludes that overdose deaths continue to be "unacceptably high" and more targeted efforts are needed "to reduce the number of deaths in this evolving epidemic of middle-aged women".

"While prescription opioids are still the main driver of the current opioid epidemic, it's important to acknowledge the sharp rise of fentanyl-laced heroin for the increased numbers of deaths, driven by cheap, illicitly manufactured fentanyl from China and Southeast Asia making its way onto the streets in the US", he told CBS News.

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In 1999, drug overdose was behind about seven of every 100,000 deaths among middle-aged women.

The CDC analyzed death certificates from all 50 states in their report. Often, overdoses involved multiple drugs. Also, changes over time in testing or reporting of certain drugs could have influenced the data.

That report showed that the rate of drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl increased about 113% per year, on average, from 2013 through 2016. But it's clear that equally necessary messages are not reaching the older women who are dying of drug overdoses, the authors suggested.

As a country, "we've been ignoring this for a while", Benjamin said. "Women's part of the issue is just being not portrayed and not understood by most people".

"Persons with untreated or under-treated depression or anxiety are at higher risk for substance abuse, placing middle-aged women in this demographic at higher risk for opiate as well as benzodiazepine abuse", Glatter noted. And there are plenty reasons why women are particularly vulnerable to drug overdose. "You want to adequately treat people [for pain], but you want to make sure that people don't think these drugs are safer than they are".

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