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Valley expert explains possibilities for jump in women’s overdose deaths

(AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

PHOENIX — During National Women’s Health Week, medical experts are trying to figure out why overdose deaths are spiking for women.

From 1999 to 2017, the death rate from overdose among women ages 30 to 64 jumped by 260%, according to data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control earlier this year.

The rate of overdose deaths involving antidepressants, benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety medication like Xanax), cocaine, heroin, prescription opioids and synthetic opioids all more than doubled.

“I think a lot of people, women in particular, occasionally may dismiss the possible side effects of overdose and different interactions of medications, particularly opiates and benzodiazepines, which are highly prescribed in women” Michelle Sproule, primary therapist at the Scottsdale Recovery Center, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Friday.

“They may be also under-reporting current medications that they’re taking without acknowledging those possible interactions.”

Sproule said women often use medications in different ways than men do.

“Women are also more likely to utilize substances for what we called secondary gains, which is different things that can help contribute instead of just removing the pain, like weight loss, an increased ability to focus, especially on daily responsibilities, decreasing exhaustion,” she said.

Differences like these are why Sproule thinks it’s important for women to be referred to gender-specific recovery programs, which can help address unique obstacles like child care, limited resources and a history of trauma.

Sproule said providers need to make sure their clients have a full understanding of what the medications they are prescribed can do to them.

“Providers … would really benefit from talking about the risk of dependency and addiction to prescribed medication, because a lot of those risks can help educate the client, or educate women specifically, on how not to overtake medication,” she said.

When it comes to trends specific to her clinic, Sproule said she is seeing more and more patients who have become addicted to fentanyl purchased on the street.

“Arizona, really just like the entire nation, is in an opioid crisis and an opioid epidemic,” she said.

Anyone struggling with substance abuse, or anyone with a loved one who is struggling, can call the Scottsdale Recovery Center 24/7 at 866-893-8742.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Peter Samore contributed to this report. 

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