Opioids and Women

A new paper makes an argument that women are more susceptible to opioid addiction and need to be treated differently.(1)

The assertions of the authors are that

  1. Women are more sensitive to pain than are men and more likely to over-use pain medication.
  2. “Women are more likely to be prescribed opioids with other medications that increase the likelihood of an overdose. Between 1999 and 2016, overdose deaths from opioid prescriptions increased by 404% for men and 583% for women.”
  3. Emergency services are much less likely to administer the life-saving drug naloxone to women with overdose symptoms than to men. That was documented in a separate study.
  4. “Pregnant women and their newborns are at special risk for health complications, as 28% of pregnant women entering addiction treatment reported misusing prescription opioids in 2012, up from 2% two decades earlier.”
  5. Women are quicker to develop a “drug use disorder” than are men.

The authors want improved insurance reimbursement for non-opioid treatment for pain.

As a lay researcher, my takeaway is that women need to be more sensitive to what drugs are opioids, keep diaries on medication use so they can see trends in use of drugs over time, and know what defines misuse and over-use. It’s about self-awareness and self-monitoring. The old piece of business wisdom applies to managing your body — you can’t manage what you don’t measure, whether it’s weight or drug use.


  1. Carolyn M Mazure, David A Fiellin. Women and opioids: something different is happening here. The Lancet, 2018; 392 (10141): 9 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31203-0


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