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Women Hit Hardest by Opioid Crisis

Dr. Dorothy Fink, Dir., HHS Office on Women's Health, took part in a Feb. 5 roundtable discussion at HRSA on care coordination for women with opioid misuse disorder. The CDC has reported a fourfold increase in the number of pregnant women in labor and delivery found to be using the drugs from 1999 to 2014.
Dr. Dorothy Fink, Dir., HHS Office on Women's Health, took part in a Feb. 5 roundtable discussion at HRSA on care coordination for women with opioid misuse disorder. The CDC has reported a fourfold increase in the number of pregnant women in labor and delivery found to be using the drugs from 1999 to 2014.

 

"Women are experiencing increases of use and overdose from opioids at a faster rate than men.  And if you slice the demographic pie even more narrowly, the picture doesn't look a lot better. The opioid use disorder crisis affects women across all age groups, all racial groups, all ethnicities, all geographic quarters of America and all socioeconomic status levels."   

- Brian LeClair, HRSA Principal Deputy Administrator

The national opioid epidemic, generally recognized as the greatest public health crisis since the dawn of the HIV/AIDS virus, is indisputably hardest on women, experts said at a Feb. 5 session -- the first in a series of planned meetings convened by HRSA to crack the problem of patchwork treatment and patient support for women in many parts of the country.

By 2014, women outpaced men in opioid-related hospitalizations (PDF - 344 KB) in all but 11 states and the District of Columbia,  according to findings from the Agency for Health Research and Quality. 

Natural and synthetic opioids increasingly are being used by women. These substances range from illegal drugs like heroin, to legally available pain relievers such as oxycodone and Fentanyl, a powerful analgesic similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent.

And opioid misuse is most consequential among women, authorities agree.

Left to right: HRSA Office of Women's Health Director Sabrina Matoff-Stepp; Principal Deputy Administrator Brian LeClair; and BPHC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Judy Steinberg.
Left to right: HRSA Office of Women's Health Director Sabrina Matoff-Stepp; Principal Deputy Administrator Brian LeClair; and BPHC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Judy Steinberg.

 

A 2017 HHS report found that women who enter treatment for substance use disorder routinely arrive with medical, behavioral, psychological and social problems that can be as complex and debilitating as the addiction itself, highlighting the need for care-coordination models to improve their odds of getting clean and sober, LeClair said.

The inaugural meeting will be followed  by two additional regional session, in Kansas City and San Francisco respectively, later this spring.

In 2016, HHS convened its first formal meeting on opioid use disorders and overdose among women, HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Women's Health Dorothy Fink said.  In its wake, the Department released last year a White Paper and Final Report on Opioid Use in Women (PDF - 1.5 MB).

"Both of those documents have helped to shape our current conversation on opioids and women," she said.

Among other recent funding awards by HHS agencies, her office awarded 20 opioid misuse prevention grants to public and private nonprofit entities combatting the epidemic.

"Since the program began, grantees have trained over 400 primary care (and) Ob-Gyn health providers to use the screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment (SBIRT) model which supports patient care," Fink said.

For more on HRSA efforts to fight the opioid epidemic.

Date Last Reviewed:  February 2019