Women with Opioid Use Disorders Face Specific Obstacles To Getting Treatment

Supermajority Education Fund

January 23, 2020

According to a new report in The Lily, women with opioid use disorders are uniquely prevented from accessing treatment because of the continuing stigma against women with addiction.

Of course, patients of all gender identities are failing to receive addiction treatment. A 2015 study found that while 22 million Americans needed such treatment, only a little over ten percent of those would receive it. But, notably, women become dependent on opioids and overdose from opioid use at a faster rate than men, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Doris Titus-Glover, an assistant professor at University of Maryland School of Nursing, has done extensive research on pregnancy and opioid use disorder in particular. She has found that pregnant women often face the biggest barriers to obtaining effective treatment for opioid dependence. 

“There is often a delay in treatment” for pregnant women “because they don’t want to come forward to their doctor, and fear criminalization,” Titus-Glover told Supermajority News. While social service agencies generally work to keep families together, she added, these women fear their doctor will report them to social services if they discover that they are using drugs while pregnant and, “they don’t want their babies to be taken away.” 

Titus-Glover also found that doctors and other health care providers often believe inaccurate myths about addiction, particularly when the patient is a woman. These misconceptions include the idea that women should stop taking opioids, but that can be very dangerous. “They can experience serious withdrawal that affects both them and their baby,” Titus-Glover said. What’s more, she added, addiction “is a brain disorder; you can’t just wish it away.”

Another obstacle women face when trying to obtain treatment is access to it. Many rural areas do not have treatment centers or healthcare professional that can provide treatment for opioid addiction at all, especially if the patient is on Medicaid. When treatment centers are available, patients often struggle to consistently get to and from their treatment appointments because of a lack of reliable transportation, long commute times, and/or cost of transportation. 

A lack of reliable child care can also impact women patients’ ability to obtain treatment for addiction. Most residential treatment centers in the United States do not allow patients to bring their children with them.

Ultimately, Titus-Glover found that changing the way doctors and community members think about the opioid crisis is key to getting women the treatment they need.

“We are trying to reduce that shame and guilt that we somehow project on these women,” she said. “Because we want them to recover, we need to give them that helping hand.”