A Call to Action
“When we look at our data, we find that 6.9 million women are needing but not receiving treatment,” said H. Westley Clark, M.D., J.D., M.P.H, CSAT Director. Approximately 94 percent of these women felt no need for treatment.
Speaking at the opening plenary, Dr. Clark cited data from SAMHSA’s 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health to emphasize the seriousness of the problem.
“We have 118,000 individuals on the waiting list for treatment services,” he said. “Those are of concern, but they are overshadowed by 6.5 million women not seeking care and not perceiving a need for care.” The chart also shows 319,000 women who feel they need treatment but make no effort to get services.
Source: NSDUH 2007. Past-Year Perceived Need for and Effort Made To Receive Treatment among Women Aged 12+ Needing But Not Receiving Specialty Treatment for Illicit Drug or Alcohol Use.
Calling the problem a conspiracy of silence, he urged treatment providers to reach out to the 6.5 million women whose voices are not being heard.
“These women are not knocking on your door,” Dr. Clark reminded the audience. “We have to reach out to the silent ones and address the internal denial, external denial, and community denial.”
Reasons women give for not making an effort to get treatment include not knowing where to go, negative effects on their job, and no health insurance. More importantly, of those women who need treatment many say they are not ready to stop using.
What’s the best treatment venue for women? “We need to work together to figure that out,” said Dr. Clark.
“We believe in recovery that includes health, wellness, and quality of life, not simple abstinence. The path to recovery is different for everyone — one size does not fit all.”
— Dr. H. Westley Clark, Director
SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment
“This conference is a call to action,” said Susan E. Foster, M.S.W., a plenary speaker from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. “The most powerful recommendation we can make is to get this information into the hands of America’s women and girls.”
“First, we need a public health campaign,” Ms. Foster said. “We need to educate people that addiction is a chronic disease and to understand the gender differences that accompany it just as we do heart disease and cancer.”
“As part of this campaign, we need to break apart risky behavior from drug dependence. Risky drug and alcohol use is a public health problem,” said Ms. Foster. “It’s about changing behaviors.” On the other hand, she noted, addiction is a medical issue that often requires a number of ongoing behavioral, pharmacological, and recovery support services.
“Part of the disease of addiction is to deny it,” Ms. Foster said, noting that women avoid getting treatment, and health care providers are not trained to see substance abuse issues. “What we need is high-quality, gender-specific substance abuse treatment.”
Research shows that girls turn to substance abuse for different reasons than boys do. Girls are more likely than boys to self-medicate to relieve anxiety and stress. “And regarding mental health issues,” said Ms. Foster, “girls are more likely to have anxiety, depression, and eating disorders than boys are, and these conditions often co-occur with addiction.”