Women Are Different: Is Your Medication Right For You?

Jay Stillman

3 min read

women-healthIn our last Stillman and Friedland post, we discussed the implications of drugged driving. We know responsible drivers would not knowingly drive impaired. However, what you may not know is that some of the prescription medications you are taking for your injuries have a much more lasting effect on women than on men.

Sleep aids and painkillers linger in your bloodstream and affect your judgment and reaction time much longer than you may suspect. You may think that a pill you took before bedtime has cleared out of your system by morning, but may still be working. Some medications last over eight hours in the bloodstream. Driving while under the influence of these medications is dangerous for you and others.

Why are women more susceptible to this “hangover” effect? Women differ from men metabolically, and retain higher concentrations of medications for longer than men do. As a result, women often require lower doses of medications. This is not an issue of body size, but of how your body processes chemicals differently.

Sex Matters in Emergency Medicine | Alyson McGregor | TEDxProvidence

Sadly, for many years women were assumed to be just the same as men for the purposes of drug testing and dosages, with fatal results. For years there were increased rates of accidents among women using zolpidem (Ambien, Ambien CR, Edluar, Intermezzo, Zolpimist, etc.). Finally, in 2013—more than 20 years after its approval in 1992—the FDA issued new safety guidelines halving the dosage for women. The Ambien CR formulation was determined to have the highest risk for women drivers. Had the drug been properly tested, many accidents and fatalities would have been prevented.

If you are a woman taking opioid pain medications (Vicodin, Lortab, Opana, Zohydro, Oxycodin, or Percocet) as you recover from your accident, you will need a lower dosage than a male patient. According to the AAFP, women “demonstrate a greater analgesic response to opioids. To achieve equivalent pain relief, men require a 30 to 40 percent greater dosage”. Also beware that women have higher addiction rates to opioids, so use them sparingly when you need them and don’t save pills “just in case”.

These opioids also linger in your body, so be aware that if you are taking them regularly around the clock, you should not be driving. (This is true for both men and women.) If you need pain relief to sleep, you may need to take them earlier in order to avoid a “hangover” in the morning.

The takeaway point here is that you should make sure you are getting the medications and doses that are right for you. This is a health and safety issue. If you are recovering from an injury, the last thing you want is to end up in another accident, or cause harm to others. Do not hesitate to ask your doctor about this issue, and as we have said before, if the doctor is not open to discussing these issues, you may need to find a professional who will.

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