Study Identifies Factors Driving Higher Opioid Prescription Rates in Women


Research has found that women receive higher rates of opioid prescriptions than men; a new study identifies why that may be.


A nationally representative sample study found that women were more likely to receive opioid prescriptions compared with men; however, the findings pointed to the main factors that may be driving this discrepancy. 

Increased rates of opioid-related death have prompted an examination of present prescription opioid safety. Previous studies had determined that women were prescribed more opioid analgesics than men, but whether this disproportion related in any way to women-centric factors such as adverse socioeconomic and health conditions, greater contact with the health system, or women’s higher rates of being diagnosed with painful and depressive disorders, was largely unknown.1

The team of investigators wanted to examine potential factors associated with this increased rate of opioid prescription among women. Investigators examined data from the 2005-2015 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, which included all adults 18 years and older with prescription and health service utilization data.

According to the study, adults who received opioid prescriptions were more likely to be white, older, earn a lower income, live in the Midwest and South, and have public insurance, as well as more likely to have poorer health and higher rates of smoking and cancer.1

Consistent with prior surveillance data, the team found that women did receive significantly higher rates of opioid prescriptions: 9287 women (16.2% of the sample) received opioid prescriptions, whereas 5679 men (11.7%) received them. Yet, after adjusting for the higher rates of nonopioid prescriptions, the study results found little discrepancy in the rates between men and women. According to the investigators, this suggested that the main factors driving this discrepancy were general sex-related differences in sociodemographics, health status, and overall health care utilization.1

The findings also could not determine if the number of women who received opioid prescriptions was influenced by how they treated pain. The findings were also limited by the fact that the team was unable to examine any risks associated with the high opioid prescription rate, as well as unable to examine the doses and duration of these prescriptions. Finally, the team’s decision to base their analysis only on completed survey answers may also have limited the information they were able to receive.1

Future research is needed to better understand the relationships that may drive increased risk for higher rates of opioid prescriptions in women, and prevention efforts should target these contributing factors, the study concluded.1


  1. Agnoli A, Jerant A, Franks P. Prescription Opioids and Patient Sex: A National Cross-Sectional Study. Journal of Women’s Health; (2020).
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