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Opioids’ impact on women’s health explored at research symposium

Jul. 28, 2016, 9:45 AM

Women may be at higher risk than men when it comes to overuse of opioid-containing painkillers, speakers warned at a research symposium at Vanderbilt University Medical Center earlier this month.

Between 1999 and 2010, opioid-related deaths in women rose by 400 percent, compared to a 265-percent increase in men, said Peter Martin, M.D., professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Studies suggest that women are more sensitive to pain than men, more likely to develop chronic pain and more likely to be prescribed pain-killers.

Opioid use also impacts pregnancy and the fetus. Nine out of 10 pregnancies in women who abuse opioids are unintended, Martin said. In the general population, the percentage of unintended pregnancies ranges from 31 percent to 47 percent.

Babies born to women who took opioids during pregnancy, then stopped, also can experience neonatal abstinence syndrome, characterized by high-pitched crying, sleep problems and diarrhea.

About 65 people attended last week’s “bedside-to-bench” symposium, sponsored by the Vanderbilt Program in Molecular Medicine and organized by program director Mark de Caestecker, MBBS, Ph.D., associate professor of Medicine, Surgery and Cell and Developmental Biology.

The “bedside-to-bench” series shows graduate students and postdoctoral fellows how basic research can impact the lives of patients.

Other speakers included Sachin Patel, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the Division of Addiction Psychiatry; Margaret Benningfield, M.D., MSCI, assistant professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics; Reid Finlayson, M.D., associate professor of Clinical Psychiatry; and Stephen Bruehl, Ph.D., associate professor of Anesthesiology.

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