Opioid Addiction and Treatment for Women

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The risks of prescription opioid addictions and overdoses are clear with these products being no less dangerous than heroin when abused.  Women are at more at risk of addiction than ever before and although men have been more likely to die from an opioid overdose than women in the past, the gaps are closing.

Women may be less likely to enter treatment for their opioid addiction for many reasons, especially when they anticipate vulnerable risks to their relationships with and responsibilities to their children due to stigma, reprisals, outside interferences.  However, some studies conclude that mothers residing with their children may be more likely to seek treatment than mothers who do not reside with their children if they perceive a fear of that loss.

What’s true is that; women do experience more vulnerability with addiction and if seeking treatment, require a treatment program that helps them deal with many issues men just do not have.

Opioid Addictions and Motherhood

Opioid Addiction

Counseling is an important aspect of opioid addiction treatment for women.

According to the Yale School of Medicine, “Substance use during pregnancy and the postpartum period may have significant implications for both mother and the developing child.” Repeat exposures of any opioid drug can lead to the unborn baby becoming dependent along with the mother.  Opioid substances pass quickly through the placenta that connects the baby to its mother in the womb and the effects can be devastating to the unborn child leading to stillborn deaths, premature births, low birth weights, and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).  As much as opioid withdrawals in an adult can be excruciatingly painful and unpleasant, a newborn suffering NAS is more physically and emotionally traumatized.

Brain regions critical to emotion, reward, and stress regulation are disrupted or depressed with opioid abuse and in a child of an opioid dependent mother, the loss of connectivity presents a long-term problem that is not easily mended.   These mothers may be more likely to continue abusing opioid postpartum, obtain their opioid drugs through fraudulent or illegal means as a way of trying to remain secretive, or less likely to receive adequate prenatal care and the positive support they need during the difficult times of pregnancy and related development issues.

Overdose Dangers

Many opioid addicts will have a non-fatal opioid overdose experience during the course of their opioid abuse and some will have multiple episodes that are left unattended.  Heroin use is on the rise as prescription opioid abusers alternate their use with heroin when those medications are unavailable or too costly.

Heroin is able to bypass many blood-brain barriers quickly and lead to overdose as respiratory depression occurs.  The decrease in oxygen levels as respiratory and cardiovascular functions decline during an opioid overdose are significantly dangerous and potentially fatal to any unborn child in a pregnant mother.

The switch to heroin for its cheaper and immediately powerful high increasingly becomes more dangerous (although hard to imagine) as illicit fentanyl manufactures are taking advantage of these trends and increasing the fentanyl percentages in the heroin they distribute.

According to the CDC, “The largest increase in overdose deaths from 2013 to 2014 was for those involving synthetic opioids (other than methadone), which rose from 3,105 deaths in 2013 to 5,544 deaths in 2014. One of these synthetic opioids, illegally-made fentanyl, drove the increase.”

Opiate Addiction Treatment Options for Women

Treatment for Opioid Addicted Women

Women must be able to recognize the positive relevancy of treatment as it pertains to them individually and concerning their relationships with spouses or significant others, especially when they may have initiated or continued their opioid use with these individuals.  They may be victims of spousal abuse or neglect, suffer high rates of depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress, and fear losing custody of their child should they attempt to seek help.

Financial stability, insurance or lack thereof, transportation, legal, housing, and child care issues are generally other concerns at the top list and predictors of whether or not the woman will remain in treatment for an adequate time period to optimize their outcome success.

According to a study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, “Methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) is the standard treatment of choice for pregnant opiate addicts.”

In combination with methadone doses to minimize harm to the woman and any unborn child, women in a methadone maintenance program benefit from a wide range of integrated services including prenatal and postpartum care, education, counseling, parenting classes, therapies, and mutual support.


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