Two Women Scholars Call for Greater Attention to Gender Differences in Opioid Use Disorder

Dr. Becker

A commentary published in the journal Biology of Sex Differences has called on the White House National Science Technology Council’s Fast-Track Action Committee to revise its report on a coordinated response to the opioid epidemic so that it reflects the unique needs of women.

The essay, written by Dr. Carolyn Mazure, director of Women’s Health Research at Yale University, and Dr. Jill Becker, chair of the biopsychology area of the University of Michigan’s psychology department, details the laboratory, clinical, and epidemiological evidence showing the need for the report to endorse and encourage the research of sex and gender differences. They argued such data is necessary to generate gender-based interventions that more fully address the opioid epidemic.

“All data must be reported by sex and gender so that gender-specific treatment and prevention strategies derived from this research are provided to practitioners and the public,” the authors said. “We encourage biomedical researchers and clinical care providers, as well as the public, to insist that a successful response to the opioid crisis should highlight the importance of understanding sex and gender differences in the current opioid epidemic.”

The authors note that while the report does include concerns about maternal and neonatal exposure to opioids, it overlooks significant and growing data on how opioid use disorder affects women. The authors wrote that women are more likely than men to be prescribed and use opioid analgesics and that women experience pain and the effects of opioids differently than men. Additionally, women develop addictions more quickly after first using addictive substances and they are more likely than men to relapse after an attempt to quit.

The authors also described how women with opioid addiction are more likely than men to have experienced early trauma and to have been diagnosed with depression. Women with opioid addiction also suffer greater functional impairment in their lives, impacting their ability to work, secure steady housing, and avoid negative effects on children.

Dr. Mazure

“Our experimental models will not begin to yield the desired information until they employ appropriate models that include both females and males, and our clinical and epidemiological investigations will not uncover needed data until both women and men are studied,” the authors said. “A successful response to the opioid crisis will only be found when scientists, practitioners and the public incorporate the essential importance of understanding sex and gender differences into the solution for OUD.”

Dr. Carolyn Mazure is the Norma Weinberg Spungen and Joan Lebson Bildner Professor in Women’s Health Research and Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at the Yale School of Medicine. She holds a Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University.

Dr. Jill Becker is the Patricia Y. Gurin Collegiate Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois.

Filed Under: Gender Gap


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