Prescription opioid deaths among older women are skyrocketing

  • VanHouten JP & al.
  • MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep
  • 11 Jan 2019

  • curated by Jenny Blair, MD
  • Clinical Essentials
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Takeaway

  • Among women who die of a drug overdose, the average age is rising.
  • Clinicians should note that age does not protect women from fatal overdose.

Why this matters

  • Drug overdose mortality is rising in women.
  • This study examines trends for specific drugs and age groups.

Key results

  • For women aged 30-64 years, drug overdose deaths per 100,000 population:
    • Crude rate: 6.7 in 1999; 24.3 in 2017 (260% increase);
    • Opioid-involved: 2.6 in 1999; 15.5 in 2017 (492% increase).
  • Average age at death rose 2.8 years over the study period.
  • Rises in drug overdose deaths by specific drug types:
    • Synthetic opioids: 1643%;
    • Heroin: 915%;
    • Benzodiazepines: 830%;
    • Prescription opioids: 485%;
    • Cocaine: 280%;
    • Antidepressants: 176%. 
  • Rise by age group, 1999-2017:
    • 30-34 years: 350%;
    • 35-39 years: 200%;
    • 45-49 years: 200%;
    • 50-54 years: 350%;
    • 55-64 years: nearly 500%.
  • Age groups with largest increases by drug type:
    • Antidepressants: almost 400% rise in 55-59-year-olds;
    • Heroin: from
    • Prescription opioids: >1000% increase in those aged 55-64 years.

Study design

  • Analysis of overdose death rates in women aged 30-64 years, 1999-2017.
  • Outcome: mortality by drug subcategory; changes in age distribution. 
  • Funding: CDC.

Limitations

  • Overdoses involving drug combinations not assessed.

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