Study: Women Face Opioid Treatment Obstacles

opioid treatment

Plus: SUD risks for transgender teens, drug-related infant deaths and the link between OUD and suicide

By William Wagner

It seems discrimination against women extends to opioid use disorder (OUD). A new study reveals the difficulties women, especially those who are pregnant or with Medicaid, face in accessing treatment.

Other topics we look at include the heightened vulnerability of transgender teens for developing substance use disorder (SUD), the influence of drugs on infant deaths, and the need to step up suicide prevention efforts.

Callers frequently experienced long hold times, multiple transfers, and difficult interactions. Clinic receptionists were often mentioned as facilitating or obstructing access.”—study in “Women’s Health Issues”

From Women’s Health Issues:
An Opioid Care Bias Against Women

Researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center are shining a light on the impact the opioid epidemic has had on women. A study published on June 2 in Women’s Health Issues builds on a 2020 “secret shopper” survey in which more than 10,000 trained female participants called treatment centers to seek OUD help. In their totality, the researchers’ findings aren’t heartening. “Callers frequently experienced long hold times, multiple transfers, and difficult interactions,” the authors write in Women’s Health Issues. “Clinic receptionists were often mentioned as facilitating or obstructing access. Pregnant callers and those with Medicaid noted more barriers. Obtaining an appointment was commonly difficult even for these persistent, trained callers.” The researchers conclude that much has to be done to improve the treatment experiences of women, including better training for provider receptionists, who are in effect the “gatekeepers.”

Transgender Teens at Risk for SUD

Addiction is a significant issue for adolescents in the transgender community, with more than 50% engaging in substance use, according to a study headed by Sabra L. Katz-Wise, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. Katz and her colleagues write, “Results suggest that GM [gender minority] adolescents engage in substance use as a coping strategy in response to gender minority stressors. … Future interventions with GM adolescents should focus efforts on addressing internalized transphobia as a risk factor and strengthening resilience, gender-related pride, and family functioning as protective factors for substance use.” As part of its research, the team surveyed 30 transgender adolescents (ages 13 to 17) every six months for two years.

From National Vital Statistics Reports:
Drug-related Infant Deaths

According to newly published research in National Vital Statistics Reports, a publication produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 0.64% of all infant deaths can be tied to drugs. Using data from the National Vital Statistics System, researchers determined that 442 of the 68,609 infant deaths in the United States from 2015 to 2017 could be traced to drugs, notably methamphetamine, opioids, cocaine and opioid treatment medications such as methadone and naloxone. “The most common cause of death for which drugs were the underlying cause was Newborn affected by maternal use of drugs of addiction; the most common underlying cause of death for which drugs were a contributing cause of death was Newborn affected by other forms of placental separation and hemorrhage,” the report states.

From Addiction Professional:
The Need for Suicide Prevention

In an opinion piece for Addiction Professional, Hilary S. Connery, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the clinical director for McLean Hospital’s Center of Excellence in Alcohol, Drugs, and Addiction, homes in on the need to make suicide prevention a more prominent part of addiction treatment. Suicide prevention, she stresses, becomes particularly important in the context of the opioid epidemic. “There is long-established evidence that suicide risk is associated with OUD, and more recently increasing evidence that suicidality is a national driver of both pain-associated opioid analgesic overdose fatalities and depression-associated illicit opioid fatalities,” she writes. “It appears that the COVID-19 pandemic has only added to the risk.” Connery says that “[r]ates of suicide in individuals with OUD are up to 14 times greater than the general population.”

Photo: Michael Rosner Hyman