Women are superheroes. Today over 70% of mothers are in the workforce, and females are the primary financial support for four in ten households. But even Superman has his kryptonite, and as the CDC's latest study shows, American women's exigency is prescription drugs. A remarkable 40% of all drug overdoses are attributed to females' use of intense painkillers, such as OxyContin and Vicodin. More women die from OD'ing than from cervical cancer or homicide.
As if this wasn't shocking enough —women have historically been a solid minority in drug abuse statistics —this data is ascribed to middle-aged women, ages 45-54, indicating that most of these medicines are likely accurately and legally prescribed. So how are soccer moms America's biggest secret and fatalistic pill-poppers?
Firstly, women are naturally prone to problems best treated with a chemical cocktail. Fibromyalgia and chronic back pain—two of the most common middle-age maladies—are typically treated with FDA-approved painkillers such as Lyrica. But how do these legal prescription lead to so many deaths — almost 7,000 annually?
One reason could be the staggering amount of women on anti-depressants. With women’s use at an all time high, accidental overdoses are far more likely to occur. But that’s not all. Kryptonite that they are, these drugs are also women’s secret weapon. These painkillers instantly alleviate aches women have lived with for years, renewing their vigor. Suddenly, they go from doing practically nothing to everything.
As Crystal D Steele, a recovering addict, told the New York Times, “I thought I was supermom. I took one kid to football, the other to baseball. I went to work. I washed the car. I cleaned the house. I didn’t even know I had a problem.”
With stories like these, it’s impossible to fault women like Steele. Why would anyone suffering for so long stop using the only thing that’s saved them? These terrifying statistics are not abusers’ faults. They’re ours.
As the beginning of this article stated, more women are working than ever before, which is fantastic. But as workplace participation increases, domestic pressures have stayed the same. A woman is encouraged — expected even — to run a family even with 50 work weeks. Anything less — missing the school play, not participating in the PTA bake sale — is seen as failure.
There is insurmountable pressure on women to give 100% of themselves to every facet of their lives, something that isn’t physically possible. And if prescriptions help, why on earth would beleaguered women say no?
As a society, we are responsible for stopping this. We must end unfair expectations that can lead to these dangerous addictions and pay more attention to this problem, historically ignored by researchers. If we offer the same resources and attention given to men struggling with addiction, women can finally get a fair shot at success, and go on to save the world, like the true superheros they are.