The rate of deaths due to overdose of opioids has reached crisis proportions in countries around the world. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that there were more than 207,000 drug-related deaths in 2014, nearly half involving overdose. Most of those were associated with opioids, including heroin or prescription meds such as Oxycodone, Percocet and Fentanyl.
Surprisingly, the greatest increase in deaths due to opioid overdose involves women over age 50.
Addiction in Older Women: How it Begins
Many health care providers prescribe opioid medications freely to middle-aged women, who are prone to chronic pain from arthritis, menopause or other problems that often occur in mid-life. Although the drugs are prescribed for legitimate purposes, tolerance builds rapidly and higher dosages are needed to attain the same level of pain relief. Long-term use of prescription pain medications is common among older women.
Although women tend to trust their doctors, they may not realize that prescription opioids are just as dangerous as street drugs and the effect on the brain is no different. The potential for addiction is just as likely, but all too often, busy physicians lack the time or knowledge to talk to their patients about the benefit of alternate pain relief methods such as chiropractic, acupuncture, exercise, physical therapy, meditation or yoga.
Adding to the mix are pharmaceutical companies with powerful marketing campaigns crafted to convince women that prescription medications are safe and hold the answer to chronic pain.
Prescriptions are quick and easy solutions and doctors tend to prescribe relatively large doses for their middle-aged patients, but at some point, doctors may decide that it’s in the patient’s best interest to stop prescribing the medication. This is an unpleasant development for women who have become dependent. Illegal street drugs are often the next step.