Is North America’s Opioid Epidemic a Crisis of Masculinity?

‘..a professor at the University of British Columbia has highlighted a different statistic from the crisis: in 2016, of the 935 fatal overdoses in the province, 80% were men. Perhaps this figure suggests a relationship between the opioid crisis and masculinity – one that may offer clues as to why the death toll continues to rise, and where the solutions might lie. I think we haven’t really thought deeply or well about who men are, about what the pressures on them are, what we need them to be,’ researcher Dan Bilsker, Clinical Psychologist

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery - Baby Boomer Synthetic Opioid RehabOpioid Crisis in Canada

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The calls began just after midnight and continued relentlessly throughout the day. By the end of Wednesday 26 April, paramedics in the Canadian province of British Columbia had responded to a record 130 suspected overdose calls.

The day offered a window on the battle playing out in British Columbia as residents grapple with an opioid crisis that has claimed, on average, four lives a day in the province.

The struggle is playing out across North America, as authorities in Canada and the US grapple with an epidemic that has claimed thousands of lives on both sides of the 49th parallel.

80% of Overdose Fatalities Were Men

Against this stark backdrop, a professor at the University of British Columbia has highlighted a different statistic from the crisis: in 2016, of the 935 fatal overdoses in the province, 80% were men.

Baby Boomers Increased Drug Overdose Death

While drug overdose death rates increased for all age groups from 1999-2015, the greatest increase was in adults aged 55-64. Increasingly, older adults (including baby boomers) are developing an addiction to opioid prescription pain killer medications. Licensed professionals, including lawyers, doctors and medical professionals, airline pilots and more – are not immune to addiction.

Overdose Fatalities – Men

Boomer Mens Rehab - Arrowhead_Lodge_Recovery, Prescott AZResearch that shows men are more likely to use illicit drugs, so it is perhaps logical that they are more likely to overdose. But the clinical psychologist Dan Bilsker argues that the figure suggests a relationship between the crisis and masculinity – one that may offer clues as to why the death toll continues to rise, and where the solutions might lie.

“I think we haven’t really thought deeply or well about who men are, about what the pressures on them are, what we need them to be,” said Bilsker.

Dan Bilsker has spent years studying men’s psychological health, delving into why men live an average of four to six years less than women and are more likely to kill themselves. In some ways, the opioid crisis stems from the same tangled roots, he said. And as with many other health issues, its singular interaction with gender has been largely overlooked.

Across Canada, at least 2,458 people died last year of an opioid overdose, according to the federal government. “The death toll is worse than any other infectious epidemic in Canada, including the peak of Aids deaths, since the Spanish flu that took the lives of 50,000 people a century ago,” Jane Philpott, Canada’s health minister, told a conference in Montreal earlier this year. (Her government has been criticized for not doing enough to address the crisis – as she spoke, protesters unfurled a banner reading: “They talk, we die.”)

Is North America's Opioid Epidemic a Crisis of Masculinity?

Jane Philpott PC-MP, Current Minister of Health Canada: ‘The death toll is worse than any other infectious epidemic in Canada.’

Gender Divide in Deaths Reflects Levels of Drug Abuse

Bilsker believes the government’s response would be different if those dying were 80% women. “I suspect there would be more groups – more people actively involved in raising public awareness – who would speak up and engender a greater sense of this being an important issue,” he said.

The gender divide in deaths reflects levels of drug abuse in the province, where 80% of users are men, said Patricia Daly, the chief medical health officer of Vancouver Coastal Health. “People here often talk about men’s health,” she said. “We don’t have a focus on things that men are at greater risk for and this is certainly one – dying of an overdose is primarily affecting men, and men in the prime of their life.”

But others say that the federal government’s reluctance to engage with the issue owes less to gender, and more to the stigma around drug use. “I think if it was any other group of people dying like this, we would have handled it a long time ago,” Jordan Westfall of the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs recently told the Guardian.

When it comes to explaining why so many men are dying, Bilsker pointed to a variety of factors. Data shows that men are more likely to suffer severe workplace injuries, which could in turn make them more likely to be prescribed opioids for pain. “In our society, we slot men into the dangerous jobs, where they may be killed in small numbers, but they may well be injured,” said Bilsker.

Across Canada, many of those dying are men between the ages of 19 and 50 years old. “I think it’s easy to simply look at them as foolish risk takers,” said Bilsker. But to do so would minimize the extent to which our culture socializes and rewards men who are willing to take risks, he argued.

“Whether its logging or it’s the military, we need men to do it,” he said. “We need men to do inherently risky jobs.”

Men Generally Do Not Discuss Emotions or Ask for Help

That nudge toward risk is compounded by societal norms that discourage men from talking about PTSD and traumadepression, emotional suffering; or reaching out for help, he said. “One of the main things drugs are used for is killing psychological pain. They’re not just about taking something to become euphoric, they’re often escapes from one’s experience of unbearable pain,” he said. A deeper understanding of these factors could offer tools to fight back against the opioid crisis, said Bilsker, pointing to the informed – and ultimately effective – public campaigns waged against impaired driving in recent years as an example.

After months spent highlighting the gender disparity in the opioid crisis, Bilsker said he’s beginning to see indications that the message is sticking. “It’s just starting to be seen as something that actually needs to be talked about,” he said.

  • In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found here

Successful Opioid Addiction Treatment:
Addiction Recovery *and* Chronic Pain Management

Arrowhead-Lodge-Recovery,Men's Rehab Group Therapy, Prescott AZArrowhead Lodge Recovery is a gender specific rehab for men, baby boomers and older. Our treatment facility is located in the beautiful mountains above Prescott, Arizona. We have chosen to keep our facility small – and staff to client ratio large.

At Arrowhead Lodge Recovery, we treat mature men who are addicted to alcohol and opioid-based prescription painkillers. When indicated, we also provide suboxone treatment for opioid dependence. A critical component of our addiction recovery program is treatment for chronic pain.

We treat boomer opioid addiction on two fronts: addiction and chronic pain. A key member of the Arrowhead Lodge Recovery Staff is Dr. Rob Ashby, M.D., Medical Director, Pain Medicine and Addictionologist is our physician. Dr. Ashby is board certified in pain medicine and addiction medicine.

In addition to allopathic medicine, Dr. Ashby has training in alternative medicine from the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts. He is available to Arrowhead Lodge Recovery clients for physical medicine, pain medicine and addiction medicine.

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery – Rehab for Men

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery, Men's Rehab, Prescott AZThe Arrowhead Lodge Recovery experienced and accredited staff allows us to help men for whom previous treatment attempts may have failed. Thorough medical, psycho-social, addiction and trauma assessments inform medical interventions, medication management needs. Our licensed and credentialed team approach to treating addiction and trauma is individual to each client.

We provide addiction and depression treatment for men who suffer from alcoholism, opioid prescription painkiller addiction or other substance abuse; as well as treating co-occurring disorders.

Our Professional Comprehensive Evaluation and Assessment provides detailed information and treatment solutions for “C” level executives, upper-level managers, airline pilots, law enforcement, licensed professionals, physicians and medical professionals, legal professionals and more. Our addiction rehab for professionals program satisfies licensing requirements and gives licensed professionals a new life filled with inner peace – without using drugs or alcohol.

We use a multi-disciplinary evidence-informed addiction treatment approach implemented by licensed professionals. The Arrowhead Lodge Recovery Staff includes a Physician-Addictionologist, Addiction Psychiatrist, Doctor of Clinical Psychology, Registered Nurse, several Licensed Therapists, and an Addiction Nutritionist.

Mindfulness training, healthy exercise, nutritional counseling and education, cognitive behavioral therapy and psychoeducation are a part of our treatment program. We have chosen to keep our facility small and staff to client ratio large. Each client receives individual therapy and counseling; as well as group therapy and counseling.

Opioid Addiction and Recovery Questions?

For confidential addiction rehab and recovery inquiries, please feel welcome to contact Ken Chance at Arrowhead Lodge Recovery, 888-654-2800.

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