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Drug overdose deaths soar among US women: Report

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Carolyn, who is homeless and is currently addicted to opioids, walks along a street in Clarksburg, West Virginia, on August 22, 2018. (AFP photo)

The rate of deaths from drug overdoses among US women has soared in recent years as the country continues to combat its opioid epidemic, according to new data from the US government.

From 1999 to 2017, the drug overdose death rate among women 30 to 64 years old climbed more than 260 percent, according to the report published Thursday by US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In that time, drug overdose deaths involving heroin, cocaine, prescription opioids, synthetic opioids, antidepressants and benzodiazepines such as such as Xanax and Valium all increased, the CDC report said.

"Overdose deaths continue to be unacceptably high, and targeted efforts are needed to reduce the number of deaths in this evolving epidemic among middle-aged women," the researchers wrote.

The CDC used data from the National Vital Statistics System, which is based on information from death certificates.

Men are more likely than women to use almost all types of illicit drugs, but women are just as likely as men to develop a substance use disorder, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Overall, 70,000 people in the US died from a drug overdose in 2017, setting a new record, the CDC reported in November.

That rate was significantly higher for males than females each year: 29.1 deaths per 100,000 men compared to 14.4 deaths per 100,000 women in 2017.

So while the size of the rise in drug overdose deaths among women may come as a shock, the fact that women are being affected in America's drug epidemic should not be as surprising, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, who was not involved in the new CDC report.

Particularly when it comes to the opioid epidemic, "the stereotype is a man who's addicted to drugs who's ODing (overdosing a drug) on the street, and we know that that stereotype is clearly not complete. It's inaccurate," Benjamin said.

"Women's part of the issue is just being not portrayed and not understood by most people," he said.

The opioid epidemic plaguing the United States and the rising number of drug overdose deaths among men and women is contributing to the decline in average life expectancy across the country.

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