Women and Pain

In a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report it was noted that there is a widespread increase in opiate addiction among women. The rate of death from opiate pain relievers has increased 5 times in the last decade and while the death rate from drug overdose remains higher in men the rate of increase in much higher in women in the last 10 years with more women dying of drug overdose than in car accidents.

Any time I read a statistical report I am left with a desire to make sense of the facts and figures. I am struck by the facts and a desire to sort out what it all means to me in my work with women, families and those struggling with addiction.

In all likelihood many deaths could have been prevented with information. And this information is that certain drug interactions can be deadly. Some medications can’t be combined, in particular opiate pain relievers and benzodiazepines otherwise known as the category of anti anxiety medications. Combining opiate pain relievers with anti anxiety pain meds can lead to death. How many people are aware of this fact?

Doctors are certainly aware of this fact, however if a woman is getting her pain medication from one doctor and her anti anxiety from another she is not getting the information on how to safely take her medications. And as is pointed out in the CDC report women tend to “doctor shop” and get their desired medications from more than one doctor. The reality is that most women are hiding their emotional and physical pain and feel reluctant to admit to struggling with either.

So, what is going on that women feel the need for opiate pain meds and anti anxiety meds? What does this tell us about women today and about their lives?

It is pointed out in the CDC report that women are more likely to experience more pain and for a longer duration than men. And indeed if you watch TV you will see ads that are directed at women with chronic pain. Is there really a sex based difference in the experience of pain? Or is this a sociological phenomena?

As a woman and in my work with women I have found that women tend to;

—take care of others while neglecting themselves

—delay seeking treatment until they have hit the wall

—care for themselves rather than have someone helping them

—feel compelled to continue to push on and take a pill rather than take the time for other forms of self care

—use pain meds to take the edge off their emotional pain as well as their physical pain

—use anti anxiety meds to deal with daily stress and anger

Indeed more than one woman has told me that her husband, kids and boss were much easier to tolerate when she was taking her “mommy vitamins” which were her pain and anxiety medications.

Taking all the aforementioned into account it seems to me that it is time to educate women on all fronts; drug interactions and lethal combinations, recognition of physical and medical concerns that are more prevalent among women. As well as the understanding, acknowledgement of the realities of the emotional lives of women today and the barriers of self awareness and self care.

Next on Women and Pain – The Fall Out of Being Last On The List

Footnote: CDC Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mentality Weekly Report (MMWR), Vital Signs: Overdoses of Prescription Opioid Pain Relievers and Other Drugs Among Women – United States, 1999-2010, Weekly, July 5,2013/62(26);537-542

About the Authors

Karen Khaleghi Ph.D.

Karen Khaleghi, Ph.D., is a co-founder of Creative Care, Malibu, a rehabilitation and recovery center.

Morteza Khaleghi Ph.D.

Morteza Khaleghi, Ph.D., is the co-founder of Creative Care, Malibu, a rehabilitation and recovery center.

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