Opioid Use, Misuse, and Overdose in Women

The Office on Women's Health (OWH), HHS, released its Final Report: Opioid Use, Misuse, and Overdose in Women, an examination of prevention, treatment, and recovery issues for women who misuse opioids, have opioid use disorders (OUDs), and/or overdose on opioids. The prevalence of prescription opioid and heroin use among women is substantial. Between 1999 and 2015, the rate of deaths from prescription opioid overdoses increased 471 percent among women, compared to an increase of 218 percent among men, and heroin deaths among women increased at more than twice the rate than among men.1 Most alarmingly, there has been a startling increase in the rates of synthetic opioid-related deaths; these deaths increased 850 percent in women between 1999 and 2015. At the same time, the differences between how opioid misuse and use disorder impact women and men are often not well understood. Even in areas where differences between the sexes are apparent, such as women appearing to progress more quickly to addiction than men, very little is understood about why those differences occur. 


The report explores the opioid epidemic with the overall mission to: foster a national conversation on best practices to prevent, diagnose, and treat opioid-related hazards and deaths among women in the U.S.; bridge gaps between researchers and public health practitioners by creating platforms to share best practices, promising approaches, and priority questions; consolidate what is already known about opioid use and hazards of opioid-related harms that are specific to or more pronounced among women, as well as the research on prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of OUD among women; and explore options for federal, state, and local governments; health insurers; law enforcement; and clinicians to address dependence, disability, and death related to opioid use.