The addiction killing women over 50


With time, our bodies adapt to the effects of the drugs. We override acclimation by taking more. That’s the vicious cycle, and depending on how long we use it, it is the exact same drug effect that’s used with anesthesia. It’s how we cannot feel pain during surgery, but we keep breathing while the operation goes on. Opioids cause respiratory depression.

We don’t think about breathing on a day-to-day basis, but the number-one cause of death in opioid use is respiratory depression. It causes our breathing to stop. It puts the back of our brain to sleep and literally puts our breathing to sleep as well.

Women are more likely to have chronic pain and be prescribed prescription painkillers, be given higher doses and use them for longer time periods than men. Evidence suggests that for some reason, women may be more likely than men to take these drugs without a prescription to combat pain and also to treat other problems like anxiety or tension.

But there may be other factors that make women more vulnerable to the pernicious effects of the drugs, having to do with biological differences between men and women. We know, for example, that women, in general, have a higher body fat percentage and lower percent of body water. Body fat and water content can affect the volume distribution of certain drugs, such as opioids, and with chronic use, can lead to an increased load of drug in the fatty tissues, and potentially have a toxic effect.

There are 2.1 million people suffering substance use disorders related to opioid pain relievers, according to a report to Congress by Nora Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. According to Volkow, there is an ongoing epidemic of prescription drug abuse and overdose deaths in the United States. The first step to reducing this problem across the country is to reduce the availability of opioids and limit their use.

Dr. Volkow also points out that while efforts have begun to make that happen, the availability of heroin has been increasing, but experts are not sure whether increased supply or increased demand is to blame. Either way, people have reported choosing heroin because it is cheaper, more available, and provides an even better high, she adds. “In a recent survey of people in treatment for opioid addiction, almost all—94 percent—said they chose to use heroin because prescription opioids were ‘far more expensive and harder to obtain.’”

Heather Healey, LCSW-C, Director of the Employee Assistance Program Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO, says that aside from doctors pushing opioids, our society conspires to lead people—especially women—to addictive behavior by failing to provide the support they need. Employers expect them to get back to work quickly after an injury. Insurance companies pay for medications, but not for alternative treatments like yoga, meditation or physical therapy. And we have come to believe in our doctors as infallible.

“Everyone is put on narcotics,” says Healey, an addiction expert. “There is a time and a place for narcotics…but we don’t challenge our doctors, we just follow orders,” she says. “We’ve gotten so desensitized to taking medication. We think it’s an easy solution. But we’ve become numb to the risks associated with it.”

If you have chronic pain and your doctor prescribes opioids, ask about other options. “Many people don’t think of medication as a drug of abuse,” Healey says. “They think of it as a drug of use when they are following doctor’s orders.” But the Centers for Disease Control have recently issued new guidelines for treating pain, recommending that doctors start with the lowest pain relief possible.


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  • Vanessa Guyette

    I recognize that opioids are overused and that many people do require an increase in dosage to produce the same results over time. However, this great push to make opioids more difficult to acquire from the treating physician affects many others who are like me. I had a near-fatal accident 13 years ago that caused severe damage to my body. I am sorry to say it has left me with severe chronic pain that prevents me from living a life anything like the one I enjoyed previously. The pain is daily and more often than not it keeps me from enjoying even simple things in life. Not asking for pity, but I have taken the same dosage and type of pain medication since my accident. I have not ever ran out of medication before the end of the month. I take the least possible and I am not addicted to opioids. I have no withdrawal if I go days without the medication, I have never felt a high from it so I don’t really understand the problem of needing more for that purpose. I don’t have an expectation of being pain free,but just a small reduction in pain means I can do more than without it. It means the difference between attending a grandchild’s birthday party versus not. My point is that I already live in a state where I now have to pee in a cup on a regular basis and the tests done are quite expensive and not very accurate. I have been told the last two times that I am taking a drug for sleep, Restoril, and I have never taken it, never had a prescription and don’t even need it. This is so annoying because my doctor is required to answer for this and he has asked me some pretty ridiculous questions about how this could be coming up positive. I don’t know other than the test is not very accurate evidently. Doctors are now being so discouraged to give opioids and are so closely monitored they soon won’t be able or willing to work with patients that truly need them. There are two sides to every coin and your article seems to be suggesting there is always the need to increase dosage and as you say, start a vicious cycle. I know you deal with those who have that problem and are affected badly by what is often a ridiculous amount of medication. I am telling you there are many out here though who you don’t see without the problem you describe.

    • Tammy

      Have you tried cannabis?

      Sativa provides a pick-me-up for exercise.

      Indica provides relaxation and reduced inflammation for repair.

      Whoops! ILLEGAL.

      • Vanessa Guyette

        I think it should be used for some medical purposes. I wouldn’t want to smoke it or have it place me in an altered state, but I would try something like drops used for kids with seizures.

        • John Hilger

          I have a great suggestion for you, if the wholly-owned corporate entity called the FDA doesn’t ban it. Kratom is a very subtle herbal tea providing serious pain relief with no “high” that some users might want to chase. NO respiratory depression, no extreme physical dependence. No one has ever died from using kratom leaf. It has a well-documented 2000-year history of safe use in Indonesia and Thailand and surrounding areas. Western Medicine should be embracing kratom as a safe anagesic, but instead they label it a “drug of abuse” and lobby Washington, or worse, the DEA, to outlaw any alternative to their modern-day synthetic opium pills. The alkaloids in kratom provides a powerful analgesic that doesn’t create physical dependence OR cause any impairment. Sober as a judge but without the pain or psychedelic side effects of prescription opiates/opioids. I’ve used it for 6 years and stopped filling my oxycodone scrip in 2013. If I run out, no drama, no WDs, nowhere near as dangerous as oxycodone etc. If this ban goes into effect, I will be lining up for my oxycodone, klonopin, soma and sleeping pills again. Western Medicine doesn’t have anything to replace the effects of full-spectum alkaloids in plant-based remedies such as cannabis or kratom. They will mix a half-dozen pills together to try to mimic its effect, at great physical harm to the patient and great expense. A shame I have to go through that when an herbal tea that would greatly impact the “opioid crisis” has been banned by a government agency obviously owned by the corporations. An alternative to mitragyna speciosa is combretum quadrangulare, which has also been used by natives of that part of the world for decades with no safety concerns noted. There are also a couple other plants in the same genus as Kratom that are showing up as a possible alternative, mitragyna java and mitragyna hirsuta. At least our Kava Kava and Coca leaf tea are safe from the runaway government agencies that llke to kill plants. Good health to us, despite the FDA.

    • pwin

      Thanking you for speaking for me and I’m sure for many others. I have been living with constant crippling pain for over eleven years now.
      Both of my hips have been replaced. My knees are completely worn out, but I’m not a good risk for that surgery. I have spinal stenosis
      resulting from herniated and/or badly deteriorated discs in my four lower lumbar spaces. It is inoperable. I can only walk for very short
      distances without my legs collapsing from the pain. My upper spine is twisted from scoliosis caused by deteriorating discs and
      “the Christmas tree effect” with bone spurs tearing into my shoulder muscles. The same affliction has produced ‘crunchies” in my
      neck, causing severe pain and making it virtually impossible to turn my head. My right rotator cuff is now torn for the third time, and
      I’m told it cannot be repaired again. Bone on bone arthritis is in both of my shoulders, and the pain extends down both of my arms
      and into my wrists and hands. For reasons unknown to me, I still have a somewhat youthful appearance, and my mind is razor sharp.
      Sadly, I have very little interest in life because I no longer have the physical ability to do any of the things I enjoyed and would still
      love to do. Just the slightest motion produces excruciating pain. I’m going through the same thing you are with the prescription
      medication I had to battle just to find a doctor who recognized my need for it. He knows that I ration it carefully and use it when
      there is some occasion or task that demands my attention and I need it just to “take the edge off”. Yet it’s the same old pee
      in the cup thing and answer questions on five sheets of paper describing the precise degree of pain in each and every area of
      my body. Until I found this physician the repeating phrase from all of the other physicians and surgeons MD….usually orthopedics….
      was “you just need to go to the drug store and look at all of the different drugs on the shelf….nsaids, etc.” Really now. Do these
      people not realize that I was smart enough to figure that out on my own and that the only reason I’m in their office paying them
      for their time is because THESE DRUGS DO NOT WORK!

  • LYoung

    Doctors have become drug dealers.

    • Ceridwen

      YOUR attitude and other people that are just as ignorant as YOU are WHY DOCTORS ARE RELUCTANT TO HELP PEOPLE!!.

      • LYoung

        Doctors are legal dispensers of drugs. Many are helpful and good, of course, Ceri.
        In the region I live in, too many women (some in my own family) are given pain killers and anti depressant meds too freely ( in my opinion) I have thrown away strong pain killers that I deemed overkill in my own situations. (No pun intended) I do hope you are given what you need by compassionate and ethical doctors.

        • Geri

          The key is compassionate and ethical doctors. Pain management specialists are the best trained for the management of chronic pain, depression and anxiety. If one is unwilling to assist in preventing the development of a possible addiction, then don’t request pain medication. LYoung is correct, some doctors have indeed become drug dealers, that’s where greed overrides ethics. But on the other hand, many ethical and compassionate physicians have had to pay the price for those that are neither ethical or compassionate. Pharmacists are helping to identify physicians that overprescribe narcotics and other medications with the potential of being addictive.

          • Kirsty Hopkins

            I live in Canada. We have developed some good ideas to address a few of those issues.
            We have a data base which we can unlock with our Personal Health Care Number,
            called Pharminet, and it tells the health care team what drugs I am on.
            If I am caught to be on one drug, prescribed by two different Dr.s,
            because you can get buy over the counter codeine 7 mg./325mg acetaminophen, some provinces, not all, keep a record of anyone buying these Tylenol I’s in any other pharmacy in the province in abundance. If they’re caught they get kicked off.

            Unfortunately, alcoholism/addiction is no respecter of gender, skin colour, bank accounts, age, etc..but it’s a slow and horrible death and it takes the family to the depths with them.

            Please know that it’s a disease.
            Or at least know that it is considered as one in the British, American and Canadian Medical Associations,

            Sorry Australia, I’m sure you do as well,
            too tired to Google,
            but who couldn’t love you guys?

            Taking on all comers.
            Insisting that immigrants speak English.
            Good on you.
            You bold and true people.
            Never waiver,
            Never retreat.
            Never stop loving each other
            Let’s have a

  • atttia

    I wonder who these doctors are who dispense pain meds so generously. I live in California and barely got 2 percosets after major dental surgery — and I’m not a hippie or abuser. The doctors here are really paranoid and many would rather see a patient “suck it up” if they are in pain and make it on Motrin than give a single Rx for a painkiller. I think they went way too far over to the other side.

    • Ceridwen

      True, MY only option was/is methadone. Granted MY clinic is very strict,I still am FORCED to go to N.A. meetings outside of the p!ace. A d to meetings INSIDE it as well. Also I’m forced to meet with a drug counselor twice a month and pee in a cup at random times which are picked by a COMPUTER!.So I’D also love to know where those doctors are!. BTW, I’m 54 yrs old and have nerve da age due to chemotherapy. And fibromyalgia. We need some REAL help, besides my option and no help at all. That was all that was open for me!.

    • Geri

      As with any other group the abuses of the few impact and taint the whole. “One bad apple spoils the barrel” is the best analogy I can think of. Organized religions don’t police their own, law enforcement doesn’t always police it’s own, the medical community and pharmacology corporations do not police their own, politicians don’t police the ethics of their own. In the end it’s the individual with a verifiable need that suffers from the lack to oversight. The war on drugs has become the war on patients. As patients we need to and should walk a very thin line to be careful that we don’t step over from need to addiction.

    • Christina Moore

      I’m with you, Atttia. Where are these drug pushing doctors? They certainly don’t exist in my town or surrounding cities. I had breast cancer surgery, and the amount of post op morphine they gave me was so tiny that i had to beg the nurse for a plain Tylenol to just endure lying in bed. The pain medicine that i took home with me was so weak i might as well have been eating girl scout cookies…. at least i would have enjoyed the taste.
      And god help you if you have a slipped or bulging disc; you aren’t getting ANY opiate pain meds for that… Not even if you have the MRI films to show the doctor.
      So why the “drug pushing” doctors are being blamed in this article is beyond me.

    • Kevin Hartwell

      The pendulum always ends up swinging the other way. Most of these articles that you read lately on the quote-unquote opioid epidemic are not truthful and they don’t tell you the real story. Many of these overdoses and deaths are from abuse of these medications and their because they are combined with other medications and or alcohol. I was the victim of a doctor who allowed me to go 8 months before getting an MRI for a ruptured disc. He prescribe pain medications but did not find out the root cause of the problem. I ended up having to have emergency surgery and almost lost the use of my left leg now I’m in constant pain I’ve been using opioids for about 14 years now. I have not drastically increased my level of usage and fact I haven’t changed my dosage since 2007. What’s unfortunate because of all the psistaria and bad reporting is that people that require or benefit from these medications and don’t abuse them are going to be the ones that are penalized and you know what’s going to happen is they’re going to do what they have to and turn to illegal drugs to get the pain relief that they need. The only reason that I use these medications is so I can continue to work in My Chosen profession and have some quality of life. The press needs to tell the truth in these doctors need to pull their heads out. I need to stop buying into the hysteria and allow themselves to be bullied by the DEA and the over-reaching overbearing intrusive government.

      • atttia

        There’s a saying about “the pain of another is bearable.” The doctors here in nothern California have become utterly paranoid about the DEA and would rather see patients in discomfort or even agony than prescribe opiates. The way they push NSAIDs on patients you would think they were miracle drugs. I have friends who are taking massive doses of NSAIDS for their rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic pain, which can’t be doing their kidneys any good. I see elderly people and even cancer patients shorted on their painkillers and left to suffer. But doctors will quickly prescribe antidepressants for the depression their patients get from being in chronic pain. It’s too bad that the illegal drugs have become so lethal. Whoever is manufacturing that poison belongs in Dante’s Inferno.

  • Aaron Poisel

    Is it true that oxycontins make your balls outgrow your butthole, folks?

    • Ceridwen

      IF it were YOU’D need to have balls first in order for them to be enlarged!. BTW, YOU need to be more concerned with your lack of maturity and intelligence.

      • Aaron Poisel

        Must’ve hit a sore spot, loser. Lol.

        • Ronnie Childs

          That was good. I enjoyed that.

  • Bullfrogman

    Opium has been used for thousands of years. It’s known negative effects have been documented for centuries. It’s 2017. With all the modern miracles with medicine this is the best we can do for pain?

    • DerfelaCadarn

      Because we have opioid receptors literally in our body. That’s why it works.

      • DerfelaCadarn

        Cannabis receptors too but that’s not as helpful for serious pain or pain intense enough to send someone into shock

      • Bill S

        I thank you for your answer and it makes sense. Just that with all the medical advances they should have come up with something else in that time frame

      • atttia

        It’s interesting that we evolved opioid receptors; that speaks to the longstanding relationship between homo sapiens and this plant, and perhaps Erectus and Neanderthalensis too. Having opioid receptors must have delivered a survival advantage, and it’s easy to see why. We all seem to respond in pretty much the same way to opium and opioids.

        It could have been the plant evolving too, through cultivation to make its effects stronger. I wonder if opium was cultivated prior to 6,000 BC. The paucity of human and plant remains from that era and before makes it difficult to ascertain. I suppose coca leaves could have followed a similar pattern,and other plant medicaments.

  • Kirsty Hopkins

    As a post-op nurse, I can’t begin to tell you how physicians & surgeons, nurses & physotherapists, feel like their hands are being tied when you’re post-op patient is a complicated orthopaedic Sx or has chronic, acute pain like bone Ca.
    As a nurse, my job is to get you up and on your way as quickly as I can, that’s why the physiotherapist is so necessary in our pnt’s rehab. When our patients are in Hospital, we can give them pain killers that are or not opioids. However, when the patient goes home and isn’t allowed opioids, they will literally be scared stiff of the pain, and they will not pro-actively phone physio to make app’ts or do their range of motion exercises because they’re in so much PAIN!
    The problem is not opioids.
    The problem is addiction, which is a disease according to the British, Canadian and American Medical Associations.
    I have had three orthopaedic surgeries in the last year. I was on hydromorphine (Dilaudid) when I was released in all three occurences.The first thing your family Dr will do is start to taper you off onto a non narcotic, like Tramadol.
    No probs. Weened off in a week or two. No worries! Why? I’m not an addict!
    If we can’t prescribe opioids to our recovering patients when they go home, two things will happen:
    1. Our patient will NOT recover or will never get full use of their limb or their mobility permanently because of the pain on movement.
    2. We’ll have to keep our patients in Hospital much longer until they can prove to us that they can pro-actively do things without too many meds…and if you think that’s going to happen, with beds at such a premium, I’ve got a bridge…

    • atttia

      I totally agree with you. I was in a car accident and nearly died, shattered my right leg and also lacerated my liver etc. Once it was determined that I was going to live, I had to get up and move about to stave off pneumonia and to start using my crutches.

      With the vicodin they gave me, I was able to do just that without the worst of the pain. Because I was so active, I healed up really fast. The more actve you are, the better you recover. We are animals, meant to move after injury if we are to survive. After a couple of weeks, I was flying around on my crutches and stopped the vicodin. I was glad to be feeling good again. I was on the crutches for nearly two years and needed another surgery to set the leg straight because the first ER orthopod didn’t know how to deal with such a complex break, and he set it wrong. I found a really great doctor, and he operated and set it right, straight as an arrow. .

      When they took the last cast off, I just walked away and never looked back. I never had another problem with the leg, which is a miracle. If not for the vicodin… I just don’t know. I wish they would develop a non-opioid pankiller that really worked and didn’t burn a hole in one’s stomach like the NSAIDs feel like they are doing to me.

      I feel llike the opium plant was a gift from nature (I’m not religious) to help people deal with agony, and denying it to people in need is cruel. As for the addicts, they need to be helped and saved because they are sick and unable to love or save themselves. That doesn’t make them worthless. Either we humans are a family or we’re chopped liver.

      • Kirsty Hopkins

        I’m so glad that everything worked out for you atttia! I’m scheduled for my fourth and fifth surgery for MY blown rt. lower leg.
        My husband and I were just commenting on the idiocy that human beings are different races!
        It’s not only counterintuitive, it’s biologically illogical,
        if you know what I mean.

        Take one 250lb, long red headed mastiff beside a Chinese hairless crested, trembling lacrimal ducts permanently spilling…Oh! I can’t go on…
        …but I will.
        They are both dogs.
        Why? Because they have the same body structure.

        Did you know that biologists have made this distinction, i.e. “race is a system of classification of human beings only, whereas species is the most refined division of all life forms.”
        They literally(hat tip lwc) CREATED racism when they did that!
        Shite! I just thought about that now!

        The point I have been struggling towards and never getting there, is finally this…
        Human beings are the one species that looks the most alike, that shares the most commonalities.
        We’re way more than bipeds!
        I’d be a fool to list any of our(the human race’s) attributes,
        but look at the “different” races like they’re standing in a line up.
        Talk to them.
        Shake their hands.

        Go to a dog show.
        Put the dogs in a line up.
        Talk to them.
        we have a problem.

        • Race (humans) seems comparable to breed (dogs). Species gets divided by type/breed, of which they have different physical qualities & behavior traits. Just as homo sapiens get divided by type/race, of which vary in certain physical qualities & behavioral traits.

          • Kirsty Hopkins

            Thanks Lisa. You’ll have to give me a better explanation though. Your first and last sentence are contradictory. In your first sentence you compare humans and dogs to be the same breed and in your latter you say we are a different type/race.

          • atttia

            Humans are of the ape species, along with gorillas, chimps, orangutans and Bonobos. Our genus is homo. According to DNA analysis, we and chimps / Bonobos diverged about 6 million years ago from a common ancestor. That common human / chimp ancestor separated from the ancestor of orangutans about 8 million years ago. And so forth.

            We are the only surviving member of the genus homo today. In the past though, there were homo Erectus, homo Neanderthalensis and Homo Floresiensis (the “hobbit” people). There are also Denisovians, who were homo as well.

        • Kirsty Hopkins

          You talk WAY too much. Time to get a life, girl.

    • Kevin Hartwell

      I had an emergency diskectomy back in 2005, and another failed back surgery back in 2014(along with a neurostimulator implant that did not help me,). I did have a Newport Beach doctor that was way overprescribing to me back around 2007-2008 (3 x 60 mg MS Contins/day!?!) I think he was busted and disappeared. I think they got rid of him. I have another doctor that tapered me down and now I take two tramadol a day and I also have a prescription for Norco for bad days. I’ve had the same prescription , or rather, the same dosage since 2008. I work as an electrician at a heat treating plant and I’m also a maintenance mechanic. I would not be able to continue to do my job and retain my earning power if it wasn’t for these medications. I’ve had the same doctor for years, and the same pharmacist. Of all the valid studies that I have seen, no more than one to 2% of people that do not have a prior issue with substance abuse become addicted to opioids. Again this is just an issue of the media stirring up hysteria, not telling the whole story and confusing the issue. Also government over-reaching and interference. The individuals that turn to the use of heroin because it’s cheaper or more readily available are the ones that are abusing medications and buying them illegally. Legally prescribed opioids are some of the cheapest medications available. To me the issue is that the people out there that are abusing these medications already have a history of substance abuse and are provided these medications by dishonest/unethical Drs. Unfortunately I can see that somewhere down the line I am not going to be able to get these medications and it’s going to seriously affect the quality of my life. Beyond frustrating.

  • I live inOntario, Canada, and even with numerous diseases that cause me pain everyday (including chronic pain in the form of severe fibromyalgia) to the point where I’m unable to sleep 90% of the time, I’m unable to get out of bed particularly after doing any sort of semi-strenuous physical activity (sadly, this would include full on house cleaning, and even fulltime work on super busy days that I’m forced to move or run around a lot), and doctors here still won’t give you prescriptions for opiates! Even with pain specialists, emergency doctors, pain management hospital programs, handful of diagnoses from various medical doctors and specialists – good luck! Because of those junky dumbasses who are STILL walking into our clinics, doctors offices, emergency rooms, etc. And begging/manipulating/threatening these overworked doctors for their next fix, those of us patients who are legitimately suffering are mostly unable to receive the proper care and adequate pain relief we once were able to get 15 years ago! It is extremely frustrating and absurdly unfair how our health system is so twisted and skewed to the point that our tax dollars are better serving drug abusers than those with real medical conditions! Let me give you a clear, concise and sickening example…I go to a medical clinic up the road from my house where I’ve been going for the last 10 years. There are now signs up all over the clinic stating that they will NOT refill any sort of narcotics or controlled substances, so don’t bother asking! Since they have refilled my pain medication (hydromorph contin), my anti-anxiety medication (ativan/lorazepam), and my sleeping medication (cesamet) many times before and I’m on record at the clinic, I figured it wouldn’t be a huge issue. As I’m sitting in the waiting room, I see a young couple from down the block come into the clinic who are well known for their addiction to opioid pain pills (especially those damn oxycodones)! Long story short, the doctor refuses to refill my medications at the clinic that day, despite them having records of everything including them having filled all of these scripts for me many, many times before! Yet, the young 18 year old junky couple ends up walking out with 2 prescriptions of high dose opiates (god damn oxycodones, 40mg and 20mg) despite neither of them having any sort of pain diagnoses! I know this because I spoke with them outside the clinic afterwards! Apparently they had been going to this clinic for over a month now, once every week, to get plate prescriptions filled. Yet, at the same time, they were also hitting up another random clinic on the other side of town and a third just outside of the city! Real nice, isn’t it?!? I should have reported both the clinic and the stupid, naive doctor that saw both me and that addicted couple that day. Or maybe I should’ve went back into the clinic and told the stupid doctor exactly what I had found out about his unethical medical practice?!! Here I am, a single mother, struggling to keep up with my mildly disabled daughter, and it is impossible go even get my medications that I have been on for the last 16 years!! Just because our healthcare is “free” here in Canada, it is in no way better than that in the USA!!