This article appears on the Andrew Christian website. Click here to be taken to the full-length version.
A new study out of New York University’s School of Medicine finds that LGBTQ people are particularly at risk for opioid prescription misuse. Some of us may not be that shocked by the findings—after all, gay men have been in the vanguard of recreational drug use for decades. But we aren’t talking about party drugs here.
Opioids are highly addictive painkillers that interfere with almost every aspect of human life (from eroding basic motor skills to disabling our mental capacity for undertaking important life events). The prescriptions’ potential for destroying daily life goes beyond our subjective well-being; in 2017 nearly 50,000 people died from an opioid overdose. That calculates to about 130 opioid deaths per day between 2016-2017 according to the US Department of Health & Human Services.
This new report sheds light on a rarely discussed piece of the opioid epidemic: how and why the opioid crisis is hurting LGBTQ communities more than heterosexual ones. Researchers found that reported misuse among straight men (5.3%) and women (3.7%) was significantly lower than rates reported by gay men (10%) and lesbians (6.8%). Even more troubling, bisexual women showed a markedly high misuse rate (13.5%) as did bisexual men (8.3%), though to a lesser degree than the bisexual women sampled.
NYU’s findings are particularly interesting because they illustrate how gender and sexual orientation interact to produce specific societal trends. In this case, bisexual women seem to be a sociological phenomenon. I say this because, historically, women have lower rates of drug abuse whereas men (especially single men) are considered the exemplar of “at risk” populations. However, when we use sexual orientation as a second level of analysis alongside gender, a frightening new trend is uncovered with bisexual women showing unprecedented rates of opioid prescription misuse.
Why are LGBTQ people experiencing this striking difference in opioid misuse?