Research: Women more vulnerable to opioid addiction than men

Two New Jersey organizations will receive federal grants to help treat women suffering from opioid addiction.

Jenna Bonstein is a recovering drug addict who works as a prevention specialist at the Wellspring Center for Prevention in East Brunswick.

“Women who were abused come in a little more broken than others,” Bonstein said.

The Wellspring Center is part of a Middlesex County coalition that just won a $100,000 federal grant to help women beat their addictions. Bonstein noted women have particular vulnerabilities.

“Even me, just being in a relationship that turned out really bad because of drugs. Only because of drugs, he was a great person. I came in, I couldn’t trust people. I felt mentally, physically and emotionally abused. I feel females go through that,” she said.

“I’ve lost a lot of friends. The epidemic is just out of control at this point, I think,” recovering addict Priscilla Seamanik said.

Seamanik’s opioid addiction started with a dentist’s prescription. But she says, a lot of high school girls with self-esteem issues turned to opioids.

“Women struggle more deeply because I feel we just want to be accepted. And there’s the certain thing that society puts on us, and all of these pressures and standards. Who to be and how to be and how to dress and how to talk,” she said.

“This grant is designed to target both younger women under the age of 17 and older women over the age of 55. Data shows those are the two primary audiences most affected by opiate overdoses,” Ezra Helfad, the CEO and executive director of the Wellspring Center for Prevention, said.

A recent study showed hospitalizations for opioid abuse increased 55 percent among men, compared to 75 percent among women between 2005 and 2014. Also, overdose deaths from prescription painkillers spiked 218 percent for men, but soared over 471 percent in women between 1999 and 2015. In response, the United States Department of Health and Human Services awarded 16 grants nationwide to prevent and reduce opioid addiction among women.

Dr. Vanila Singh, the chief medical officer in Office of the Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said there’s a biological reason for women’s vulnerability.

“The CDC had a report that showed women are more susceptible to chronic pain, and may perhaps experience pain differently, leading to an increase in opiate use in higher doses for a longer period of time,” Dr. Singh said.

Two New Jersey groups received grants, including the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine and Wellspring’s group, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence of Middlesex. Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Christie’s national opioid commission is slated to release its first report on Monday, with recommendations for the president that could target over-prescription by doctors.

“There needs to be a lot more education for our physicians on this issue, and I think the only education they’re getting is unfortunately are from pharmaceutical companies that are selling the stuff,” Christie said.

Christie’s commission won’t distinguish age or gender, which makes the Wellspring project unique.

“I really do believe that this grant can change women’s lives,” Bonstein said.

The federal funds should start flowing some time in October. Wellspring will be ready. It hopes to help 10,000 women find the resources they need to beat addiction.

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