The New Face of Opioid Addiction

Researchers from McMaster University evaluated the “differences in substance use, health and social functioning” among men and women receiving methadone treatment for opioid addiction in Ontario, Canada.  They note: “most of what we currently know about methadone treatment is based primarily on studies that included few or no women at all. Existing treatment options remain targeted towards opioid users of the past; primarily young, inner-city, heroin-injecting men.”  With an increase in the number of women becoming addicted to opioids, prevention and treatment options, they set out to evaluate the gender differences that had previously not been examined.

Of the almost 500 participants who completed the study, nearly half of all participants, 44%, reported their path to addiction began with a doctor’s prescription for a medical issue.  Looking at gender, men and women were similar in the “age of first regular opioid use, duration of treatment, and number of previous treatments for opioid use disorder”.

Despite this, 52% of women and 38% of men reported that prescription medication was their first contact with opioids.  Additionally, women were more likely to report family psychiatric issues, and having children.  Meanwhile, men were more likely to report history of injected drug use, current employment and criminal activity.

In addition to the gender differences, researchers found other significant changes in the overall trends revealing a new “typical” opioid user.  Findings revealed:

  • The average age of opioid dependent patients in treatment has increased from 25 to 38 years old.
  • Regular usage begins later; age 25 (up from age 21 in the 1990s)
  • A 30% increase in patients who become addicted after beginning prescription opioid treatment
  • A 60% decrease in injection drug use
  • Criminal activity decreased from 34% down to 5%
  • Heroin use is decreasing as more are using prescription medications
  • Women experienced a higher exposure to the adverse medical and social consequences of opioid dependence


Based on the changes in the population that is experiencing opioid addiction, it is important to evaluate prevention and treatment programs to ensure that they are reaching the people who need help, especially women.  Educating doctors and patients about the risks of opioid addiction and promoting alternatives and/or increased monitoring to help prevent addiction is vital.

Chiropractic is an invaluable option for these patients.  Chiropractic is effective in treating many types of pain and carries no risk of addiction.  If you have musculoskeletal pain, talk to your chiropractor about safe treatment options for you.  Find a doctor here:

SOURCE: Monica Bawor, Brittany B. Dennis, Michael Varenbut, Jeff Daiter, David C. Marsh, Carolyn Plater, Andrew Worster, Meir Steiner, Rebecca Anglin, Guillaume Pare, Dipika Desai, Lehana Thabane, Zainab Samaan. “Sex differences in substance use, health, and social functioning among opioid users receiving methadone treatment: a multicenter cohort study.” Biology of Sex Differences, 2015; 6 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s13293-015-0038-6