Drug overdose deaths among middle-aged American women have skyrocketed by an alarming 260%, according to figures released by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A team headed by CDC researcher Jacob VanHouten studied fatal overdose figures for women who were aged between 30 and 64 in the years spanning 1999 to 2017. They discovered that in 1999 overdose deaths accounted for 6.7 people per 100,000 population. By 2017, the figure had reached 24.3 – translating into 18,110 deaths over the year.
This crude, overall measure, however, masked even more disturbing trends. VanHouten and colleagues broke down the figures by subgroup within the age range, by the type of drug used, and by cause: deliberate or accidental overdose, homicide, or undetermined.
“The number and rate of deaths involving antidepressants, benzodiazepines, cocaine, heroin, and synthetic opioids each increased during this period,” they report.
Age was found to be a critical factor in determining overdose risk across all categories of drugs. Over the period the death rate rose by 200% for women between 35 and 49, 350% for those aged 30 to 34, and 50 to 54, but a massive 500% for women aged between 55 and 64.
Rates of increase differed according to the type of drugs used, as well as age group. Deaths from benzodiazapenes, for instance, increased 534% for women aged between 40 and 44, but 1225% for those between 30 and 34.
The figures also underpinned claims that the US is experiencing a crisis in opioid use. Deaths from prescription opioids increased in every age category, with the largest being among older women, aged between 55 and 64, for whom the rate jumped by more than 1000%.
The figures were even more alarming for users of synthetic opioids – excluding methadone. Rates of death among female users between 30 and 34 surged by 3500%.
“Overdose deaths continue to be unacceptably high,” the researchers conclude, “and targeted efforts are needed to reduce the number of deaths in this evolving epidemic among middle-aged women.”