“A rising number of women are seeking treatment for opioid addiction in Canada and other countries, yet, in many cases, treatment is still geared towards a patient profile that is decades out of date – predominantly young men injecting heroin [who have] few family or employment responsibilities,” said Dr. Bawor.

Zena Samaan, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, added that the reasons why women are more affected by opioid dependence are unclear. “It may be that they are prescribed painkillers more often because of a lower pain threshold or because they are more likely to seek medical care than men,” Dr. Samaan said in a press release.

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The study highlights the changing characteristics of individuals addicted to opioids. While drug use via injections has decreased by 60% with a resulting 50% reduction of HIV in opioid users, there has been a 30% increase in patients becoming addicted to opioids due to a doctor’s prescription. Compared with study results from the 1990s, the average age of patients being treated for opioid addiction is older (38 years compared with 25) and opioid use is starting at a later age (25 years compared with 21).

“For whatever reason, this is a growing problem in Canada and in other countries, such as the United States, and addiction treatment programs need to adapt to the changing profile of opioid addiction,” said Dr. Samaan.


Bawor M, Dennis BB, Varenbut M, et al. Sex differences in substance use, health, and social functioning among opioid users receiving methadone treatment: a multicenter cohort study. Biol Sex Differ. 2015; doi:10.1186/s13293-015-0038-6.