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The addiction killing women over 50

Depression Of A Senior Woman

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!