Women particularly vulnerable to opioid addiction, study finds

Dr. Jennifer Ashton discusses what to know about a new study's finding that women ages 40 to 59 are particularly vulnerable to opioid addiction.
4:09 | 09/26/17

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Transcript for Women particularly vulnerable to opioid addiction, study finds
We'll turn to our health alert. That headline about women and prescription painkillers and why they are becoming addicted. We'll talk to Jen Ashton in a moment, but first a look at the new report. Reporter: This morning, the report revealing that women are most at risk when it comes to opioids. 30% more prescriptions written for women than for men. 40% for female surgery patients become persistent users like 39-year-old Christina Cruz Miller, mother of three daughters. Dy what they said, I followed up with my doctor. I trusted him. Reporter: Christina says he was prescribed okaysy cotton after removing cysts from her ovaries and had never haergd of the drugs before, but became addicted to prescription pills for 3 1/2 years. Overdosing twice before beginning her road to recovery. I hated what I was, and I was embarrassed and ashamed and was content my family would be better off without me. Reporter: That new report funded by pacira, called united States for nondependence, and opioid overprescribing, finds seven common surgeries are often being prescribed far more pills than they need. What's startling and really bothersome in the study is the number of patients that are on opioids well after the surgery has been completed. Reporter: The study concluding 3 million patients continued taking them three months or longer after surgery, and Christina is not alone. 11.7 billion opioid painkillers like oxy cotton and vicodin were prescribed in 2016. If you laid them down end to end, they would crisscross the country 50 times. More people die from opioid prescription overdose than from heroin per year. That is startling. Dr. Jennifer Ashton is here. You can be in pain after post-surgery. Are there any other options though? Do people -- should we ask questions as a patient? 100% because an informed patient is the most ideal patient, but it's a catch 22 here because pain delays surgical healing and recovery so there's the balance about giving other options. If you are facing surgery, you want to ask a couple of questions. Could you make inflammatories or use ice therapy. Sometimes that's an option. You should always request the lowest dose if you need an opioid narcotic for the shortest period of time. It's basic pharmacology, and our awareness needs to be ratcheted up and we're talking about this class of medication. This number will startle people. According to the CDC, 33,000 died from overdoses in 2015. Many what do we know about the addiction? There is intense research now going on, robin in the area of research medicine. It's the reward system in the brain is hijacked and we don't know why people are prone to become addicted. We know it happens, and you have to be aware of the warning signs. If you are taking more opioid narcotics and you can't cut down, that's a sign. If you are constantly nauseated or vomiting, itchy, sedated, or have pinpoint pupils, these are signs you need to seek help. This can be life-threatening and we see that every single day. As a doctor, why are women prescribed it more than men? Again, another sex gender issue. We don't know that. Women suffer more chronic pain than men, and they seem to be given, you know, higher doses for longer periods of time. They are often on other medications that have been implicated in these overdose deaths, and again, pregnancy. This is a massive problem in my specialty. We're seeing a lot of pregnant women already come in dependent on narcotics and infants born addicted. Big push to lower this problem. As a patient, we need to ask other options, right? 100%. We need the do better.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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