Research Finds That Mental Health Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder Should Be Different for Men and Women

A study led by Elizabeth Evans, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, concludes that gender-tailored methods to address the harmful mental health effects of childhood adversity may help alleviate the current opioid crisis and make treatment more effective.

Dr. Evans and her colleagues analyzed nationally representative data from 388 women and 390 men with heroin or prescription opioid misuse. They found that more than 80 percent of both men and women with opioid use disorder reported at least one adverse childhood experience. But they also found that women with opioid use disorder are more likely than men to have mood and anxiety disorders, and less likely than men to have conduct disorders.

The authors recommend that treatment for OUD and mental health conditions, especially in the case of women, should be integrated in settings that also provide child care and create a supportive environment to address stigma and shame. “Women are often treated for OUD in predominantly male settings,” Dr. Evans says. “The care to address OUD and mental health conditions needs to be coordinated, and women’s fears need to be addressed,” such as concern over the potential loss of parental rights if they seek treatment.

Dr. Evans is a graduate of the University of California, San Diego, where she majored in literature and political science. She holds a master’s degree in comparative literature from Indiana University and a Ph.D. in community health sciences from the University of California, Los Angeles.

The full study, “Childhood Adversity and Mental Health Comorbidity in Men and Women With Opioid Use Disorders,” was published in the March 2020 edition of the journal Addictive Behaviors. It may be accessed here.

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