In a recent study conducted by scientists from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City and the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a concerning trend in drug overdose death has been identified among American men. This research, where data was collected from 2020-2021, reveals that men are two to three times more likely than women to die from an overdose.
However, what is noteworthy about these findings is that the difference cannot be entirely attributed to factors commonly associated with overdose, such as misuse or greater drug use.
The study, which aimed to discover the complexities of drug overdose death rates between genders, used data collected from 2020 to 2021. Overdoses from opioids, like fentanyl and heroin, as well as stimulates like methamphetamine and cocaine, were included in this study. The researchers focused on understanding the factors contributing to the identified trend, extending beyond common factors like misuse and overall drug usage. The statistics from this study indicate a two to three-times higher likelihood for men to suffer drug overdoses compared to women.
While differences in drug use patterns or the degree of misuse have been believed to be the reason for these disparities, that narrative is now challenged by the revelations from this study.
The co-author of this study and director of the NIDA, Dr. Nora Volkow, believes that there is something leading men to die at higher rates than women. Volkow asserts further knowledge of the biological, behavioral, and social factors impacting drug use can help develop tools to prevent a fatal overdose.
To determine whether this increased rate of overdose deaths for men is genuine when controlling for higher rates of drug misuse among men compared to women, the researchers of this study conducted an analysis of data on overdose deaths among people ages 15-74 across the United States using the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research (CDC WONDER) platform. Data from the annual National Surveys on Drug Use and Health was also used to estimate and control rates of drug misuse in men relative to women.
After the data had been controlled for sex-specific rates of drug misuse, the researchers of the study found that the overall rates of drug overdose fatalities related to synthetic opioids were 29 deaths per 100,000 individuals among men, in contrast to slightly over 11 for women.
When it comes to heroin, research revealed that there were 5.5 deaths per 100,000 people for men and 2 per 100,000 for women. The findings indicated approximately 13 deaths per 100,000 individuals among men in comparison to 5.6 for women concerning stimulants. Specifically for cocaine, the figures stood at 10.6 deaths per 100,000 for men and 4.2 for women.
The higher rate of overdose death in men was observed across the lifespan and stayed consistent across the states, even after factors like household net worth were accounted for.
When this data was analyzed in 10-year age groups, the authors discovered that overdose deaths that involved synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, had much higher rates in men than women in the 15-74 age range. With a few exceptions, men also had higher overdose mortality rates compared to women for three other drug categories.
The authors of the study considered that the disparity might be due to a combination of different biological, behavioral, and other social and gender-related factors. In 2021, the total number of overdose deaths in the United States was 107,000 people.
Eduardo R. Butelman, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and lead study author, believes that the differences in this data should be addressed in a “multilayered way.” He also emphasizes the importance of researchers continuing to investigate how biology, social factors, and behaviors cross with sex and gender factors and how all this can affect drug misuse and overdose deaths.
The study’s revelations regarding the gender disparity in drug overdose deaths bring us into uncharted territories. These findings encourage a reevaluation of our approach to public health and demand a shift from traditional approaches to a more inclusive and nuanced understanding.
This involves breaking down the complex dynamics at play and developing a course of action for a more effective response to this public health crisis, one that goes beyond statistical figures. It prompts us to ask critical questions about the social determinants influencing drug misuse, the gender-specific aspects shaping vulnerability, and the systemic barriers hindering equitable access to healthcare and addiction treatment.
At Haven Health Management, we are committed to proactive and personalized health management. We aim to implement evidence-based strategies, drive policy change, and shape a future where the intricate dynamics influencing drug overdose mortality are not just understood but actively addressed.