Women over 30 are more vulnerable to opioid addiction and overdose than you may think. The latest report from the CDC shows a 500% increase in opioid-related deaths since 1999, which the most concentrated increase found between the ages of 45-64.

To see the graph of female deaths from opioid use ticking upward is startling, especially if you imagine your aunt, wife, cousin, sister or friend’s face along the line, which grows more vertical by the year.

“If we’re not picturing the right population, we’re not targeting the right population,” Dr. Jennifer Plumb, University of Utah/Primary Children’s Hospital.

While many envision wayward youth or homeless junkies, that is simply not the case. These are often working professionals or stay-at-home moms, hiding their addictions in plain sight.  

The new CDC report found many women had both anti-depressants or anti-anxiety meds and opioids in their system.

“Increases in deaths involving certain drugs might be the result of increases in certain drug combinations,” they wrote.

Because many addictions do start with legal prescriptions, people are often not aware of the lethal risks of drug mixing. The CDC admits some deaths may also be attributed to “hidden suicide” but that distinction does little to quell fears.

The impetus to take one’s own life could be directly connected to the drug mixing itself, scrambling brain chemistries and irrationally driving someone to end their life.

Essentially, drugs hijack one’s brain in a variety of ways. This video from the Addiction Policy Forum explains it well:

Without context for how and why we become addicted, it’s not difficult for someone with high risk factors to accidentally fall into that category. It’s not simply taking the drugs, but genetics, past trauma and other circumstances playing into the drama of drug use.

What’s not harmful to one woman may be lethal for another. Taking opioids or mixing drugs outside of strict, educated guidelines set by a doctor is playing with fire. And even when directed by a doctor, women should assess their own bodily reactions and assess if anything seems off. Only you know your body — and women are particularly high risk for reasons not often cited.

“The opioid crisis has particularly dire consequences for women. Women have great inflammatory response to pain than men and are more likely to have chronic pain. They are also more likely to get opioid prescriptions and take these drugs for longer periods of time,” writes IWF Policy Director Hadley Heath Manning.

Women and their loved ones need to stay informed about the risks of opioid use in all of its forms. It’s not worth losing this one, precious life.