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Women and Drugs

Overview / Extent of Use / Health Effects / Treatment / Arrests & Sentencing / Other Links / Sources

Overview

A three-year study on women and young girls (ages 8–22) from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse ( CASA ) at Columbia University revealed that girls and young women use substances for reasons different than boys and young men. The study also found that the signals and situations of higher risk are different and that girls and young women are more vulnerable to abuse and addiction: they get hooked faster and suffer the consequences sooner than boys and young men. 1

In 2006, lifetime, past year, and past month drug use rates were lower for women than for men. 2 Women accounted for 31.9% of the nationwide admissions to treatment during 2005. 3

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Extent of Use

According to the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 40.9% of women ages 12 or older reported using an illicit drug at some point in their lives. Approximately 11.8% of females ages 12 and older reported past year use of an illicit drug and 6.2% reported past month use of an illicit drug. 4

As was the case from 2002 through 2005, the rate of substance dependence or abuse for males aged 12 or older in 2006 was about twice as high as the rate for females (12.3% versus 6.3%). Among youths aged 12 to 17, however, the rate of substance dependence or abuse among males (8.0%) was similar to the rate among females (8.1%). 5

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , approximately 34.5% of female high school students surveyed nationwide in 2007 used marijuana during their lifetime. This is down from 35.9% in 2005 and 37.6% in 2003. Inhalant abuse among surveyed high school females has increased from 11.4% in 2003, to 13.5% in 2005 and 14.3% in 2007. 6

Percent of High School Females Reporting Drug Use, 2003–2007

Drug Type

2003

2005

2007

Lifetime marijuana

37.6%

35.9%

34.5%

Current marijuana

19.3

18.2

17.0

Lifetime cocaine

7.7

6.8

6.5

Current cocaine

3.5

2.8

2.5

Lifetime inhalant

11.4

13.5

14.3

Lifetime heroin

2.0

1.4

1.6

Lifetime methamphetamine

6.8

6.0

4.1

Lifetime Ecstasy

10.4

5.3

4.8

Lifetime Steroid

5.3

3.2

2.7

According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, approximately 59.3% of State and 47.6% of Federal female prisoners surveyed in 2004 indicated that they used drugs in the month before their offense. Additionally, approximately 60.2% of State and 42.8% of Federal female prisoners surveyed in 2004 met drug dependence or abuse criteria. 7

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Health Effects

A National Vital Statistics Report found that 28,723 persons died of drug-induced causes in 2003. Of the drug-induced deaths, 10,297 were females. Drug-induced deaths include deaths from dependent and nondependent use of drugs (legal and illegal use) and poisoning from medically prescribed and other drugs. It excludes unintentional injuries, homicides, and other causes indirectly related to drug use. Also excluded are newborn deaths due to mother's drug use. 8

The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) collects data on drug-related visits to emergency departments (ED) nationwide. In 2005, there were 1,449,154 drug related ED episodes. The rates of ED visits involving cocaine, marijuana, and heroin were higher for males than females, but the rates for stimulants and non-medical use of pharmaceuticals did not differ by gender during 2005. 9

Number of Female ED Drug Mentions, 2005

Drug Type

Mentions

Cocaine

155,985

Heroin

55,503

Marijuana

80,597

Stimulants

54,419

MDMA (ecstasy)

4,419

LSD

251

PCP

2,913

All illicit drugs

288,960

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Treatment

According to the Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS), 571,748 females were admitted to treatment facilities in the United States during 2006, representing 31.8% of the total treatment admissions. 10

Female Admissions to Treatment, 2006

Drug Type

Percent

Alcohol

17.5%

Alcohol with secondary drug

14.7

Heroin

13.6

Other opiates

6.0

Cocaine-smoked

13.0

Cocaine-other route

4.4

Marijuana

13.3

Meth./amphetamine

12.4

Other stimulants

0.1

Tranquilizers

0.8

Sedatives

0.4

Hallucinogens

0.1

PCP

0.1

Inhalants

0.1

Other/none specified

3.5

Total

100.0

Additional TEDS data indicate that more than half of the treatment admissions for sedatives and tranquilizers in 2006 involved women. 11

Admissions to Treatment, by Sex, 2006

Drug

Males

Females

Alcohol

74.6%

25.4%

Alcohol with secondary drug

73.7

26.3

Heroin

68.3

31.7

Other opiates

53.8

46.2

Cocaine-smoked

58.4

41.6

Cocaine-other route

65.0

35.0

Marijuana

73.8

26.2

Meth./amphetamine

54.2

45.8

Other stimulants

59.8

40.2

Tranquilizers

46.4

53.6

Sedatives

42.7

57.3

Hallucinogens

72.7

27.3

PCP

71.1

28.9

Inhalants

67.0

33.0

Other/none specified

61.3

38.7

Total/all admissions

68.2

31.8

A SAMHSA report on females admitted to treatment with a dual diagnosis of a substance abuse problem and a psychiatric disorder found that almost half (46%) had alcohol as a primary substance of abuse. The report also found that dually diagnosed female admissions were more likely to have had prior treatments than non-dually diagnosed female admissions (72% vs. 60%). 12

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Arrests & Sentencing

During 2006, there were a total of 1,045,377 state and local arrests for drug abuse violations in the United Sates, where gender information was available. Of these drug abuse violation arrests, 201,865 involved females. 13

In FY 2004, the U.S. Marshals Service arrested and booked 19,434 female suspects for Federal offenses, representing 13.8% of the total arrests made by this agency. Of the U.S. Marshals Service arrestees booked on drug offense charges, 14.5% were female. Also in FY 2004, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) arrested 4,285 females, representing 15.6% of all DEA arrests. Approximately 1,188 of the female DEA arrests in FY 2004 involved methamphetamine. 14

Females Arrested by the DEA, by Type of Drug, FY 2004

Drug Category

Total arrested

Powered cocaine

898

Crack cocaine

494

Marijuana

737

Methamphetamine

1,188

Opiates

401

Other or non-drug

567

From October 1, 2002 to September 30, 2003, there were 9,127 female offenders convicted of a Federal offense. Approximately 82.3% of the female offenders convicted of felony drug offenses in FY 2003 were sentenced to incarceration. On September 30, 2003, there were 10,493 female offenders in Federal prison. Females accounted for 8.0% of the Federal prisoners serving time for drug offenses. 15

At yearend 2004, there were approximately 85,800 sentenced female prisoners under State jurisdiction. Approximately 28.7% of incarcerated females were sentenced for drug offenses compared to only 18.9% of males. 16

During FY 2006, there were 25,803 Federal defendants charged with a drug offense whose gender was reported to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Approximately 12.2% of these defendants were female. Additionally, 859 females were sentenced for drug offenses relating to methamphetamine during FY 2006. 17

Females Sentenced for Drug Offenses, by Type of Drug, FY 2006

Drug Category

Total sentenced

Power cocaine

582

Crack cocaine

503

Heroin

238

Marijuana

818

Methamphetamine

859

Other

153

Total

3,153

A Bureau of Justice Statistics ( BJS ) report found that about half of women offenders confined in State prisons had been using alcohol, drugs, or both at the time of the offense for which they had been incarcerated. About 6 in 10 women in State prison described themselves as using drugs in the month before the offense and 5 in 10 described themselves as a daily user of drugs. Nearly 1 in 3 women serving time in State prisons said they had committed the offense which brought them to prison in order to obtain money to support their need for drugs. 18

A report from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention ( OJJDP ), that summarized research on female gangs, states that drug offenses are among the most common offenses committed by female gang members. In Los Angeles County, an analysis of lifetime arrest records of female gang members revealed that drug offenses were the most frequent cause for arrest. A special tabulation from Chicago showed that between 1993 and 1996, either drug offenses or violent offenses were the most common cause for arrest of female gang members. 19

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Other Links

Girl Power
This site seeks to reinforce and sustain positive values among girls ages 9-14 by targeting health messages to the unique needs, interests, and challenges of girls.

(PDF)
This report provides analysis of recent findings on drug and alcohol use trends among girls.

The National Women's Health Information Center (NWHIC)
NWHIC provides a gateway to the vast array of Federal and other women's health information resources.

Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH)
ORWH serves as the focal point for women's health research at the National Institutes of Health.

Publications on Women and Drugs
A listing of publications related to women and drugs from various sources.

Women and Gender Research
NIDA's Women and Gender Research Coordinator serves to promote, conduct, and disseminate research on women's health and gender differences.

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Sources

1 National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, (PDF), February 2003.

2 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings , 2007

3 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) Highlightsó2005 (PDF), November 2006

4 Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings , 2007

5 Ibid.

6 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance: Youth Online: Comprehensive Results

7 Bureau of Justice Statistics, Drug Use and Dependence, State and Federal Prisoners, 2004 , October 2006

8 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Deaths: Final Data for 2003 (PDF), April 2006

9 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2005: National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits , March 2007

10 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) Highlightsó2006 , February 2008

11 Ibid.

12 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Dually Diagnosed Female Substance Abuse Treatment Admissions: 1999 , October 2002

13 Federal Bureau of Investigation, Crime in the United States, 2006 , September 2007

14 Bureau of Justice Statistics, Compendium of Federal Justice Statistics, 2004, December 2006

15 Bureau of Justice Statistics, Compendium of Federal Justice Statistics, 2003 , October 2005

16 Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 2006 , December 2007

17 United States Sentencing Commission, 2006 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics , 2007

18 Bureau of Justice Statistics, Women Offenders , December 1999.

19 Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Female Gangs: A Focus on Research , March 2001.

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