Pills of hydrocodone, also known as Vicodin, are shown. Drug overdose is one of the few causes of death in the United States that is worsening, eclipsing fatal traffic accidents in 2009. (Toby Talbot / Associated Press / February 19, 2013)
“About 15,300 women died from overdoses of all kinds in 2010, more than from car accidents or cervical cancer, according to the CDC.
Overdose deaths rose most rapidly among middle-aged women who, previous research has shown, are more likely to suffer from chronic pain and to be prescribed painkillers.
“Mothers, wives, sisters and daughters are dying at rates that we have never seen before,” Frieden said. ‘These are really troubling numbers.’ ”
I highly suspect that many of these “middle-aged women” taking opiates, overdosing from opiates, complaining of chronic pain, are suffering from disappointments, psychic pain, and frustration with their lives, particularly their relationships. This “middle-age” for women, as we all know, is associated with launching children, coping with elderly and disabled parents, menopausal body changes, along with mid-life relationships which range from long-term marriages to being new to the dating scene to perpetuating a single life, which may or may not feel satisfying. Where do these women turn? The psychiatrist? Nope. For both social and financial reasons, these women, generally speaking, turn to their trusted primary care physician. However, complaining about their husbands, children or their parents, seems like a “waste of time,” so they focus on the very real pain of aging. Joints do not work as well. Injuries are more common. The fluidity of the body is slowly declining and so they complain. Exercise, of course, should be the first line of defense, but primary care physicians are usually coached to get rid of pain quickly, rather than telling patients to exercise, as primary care doctors often feel that the exercise recommendation is unlikely to be understood as helpful, but rather the patient responds with “yea, I know, but I won’t.” The culture of doctors wanting to please their patients, encourages physicians to give them opiates for pain that is not clearly understood, but complained about. “What is going on with your life, right now?” is the question that I wish happened in that eight minute office visit. Primary care doctors could venture an educated guess, that the pain of aging is exacerbated by disappointments in relationships. Middle-age is a hard time for women. The culture seems to understand the “mid-life crisis” of men, but women, too, examine their choices, sometimes with feelings of deep regret and despair. Maybe opiates numb that despair, and over time, as the feelings mount, so does the opiate use, leading to tragic and preventable death. My solution: Exercise and psychotherapy for these women who come complaining of body pain, while working them up to make sure that they do not have an underlying disease process which requires medical intervention. Opiates are wonderful drugs for those facing the end of their lives due to a debilitating disease. By contrast, opiates ruin the lives of those who could have a lot to look forward to, but who need to get over a major hurdle in their lives. Physicians need to understand that. Women deserve it.