Gender Gap in Prescription Pain Drug Abuse
Study Shows Men and Women Have Different Risk Factors for Abuse of Prescription Painkillers
WebMD News Archive
April 29, 2010 -- Gender appears to play a role in the risk of abuse of
prescription pain drugs, a study shows.
Predictors of such abuse are different in men and women, researchers say,
and knowing this could help doctors adopt treatment plans that are less likely
to cause misuse of opioid medications.
The finding comes from a study involving 662 chronic noncancer patients
taking opioid drugs for pain relief.
Researchers say misuse by women seems to be closely related to psychological
distress. Prescription pain drugs are more likely to be misused by men who have
social and behavioral problems.
"Since little has been published about gender differences and misuse of
prescription pain medication, it is valuable to document whether risk factors
for abuse are gender specific to some degree," says study researcher Robert N.
Jamison, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Harvard's Brigham and Women's
The study shows that men and women have similar frequencies of aberrant drug
behavior but different risk factors for abuse of opioids.
Women who misuse pain drugs are more likely "to admit to being sexually or
physically abused or have a history of psychiatric or psychological problems,"
Women who are being treated for pain not caused by cancer and who exhibit
signs of significant stress should be treated for mood disorders and counseled
on dangers of relying on pain pills to help them sleep or reduce stress, the
Men taking pain pills should be closely monitored for suspected behavioral
problems, Jamison says. In addition, their pills should be counted to check
adherence, and frequent urine screens also should be done.
Abuse of Opioids Is Growing
Jamison and colleagues write in the study that the use of opioids for
chronic pain has been growing, and that between 3% and 16% of the population
has a substance use disorder.
Indeed, some pain centers that dispense opioids "are overwhelmed with
patients who are known or suspected to be abusing" their medications, the
The study involved patients who had been prescribed opioids for chronic
noncancer pain; about half the participants were men, half were women.