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Dornsife Doctoral Student Wins Award for Research Identifying Increased Risk of Repeated Drug Overdose among Female Victims of Sexual Violence

May 12, 2017

Janna Ataiants, MPA, MA, DrPH(c) Community Health and Prevention won a College of Physicians award for her poster, Violence and Overdose among Women in a Harm Reduction Program, at the organization’s annual Public Health Student Poster Session held on May 9.

Her research found that sexual violence may increase a woman’s risk of repeated personal overdose.

From 1979 to 2014, rates for accidental fatal overdose in Pennsylvania increased 14 times overall for men and women, but 17 times for women alone.

In partnership with Stephen Lankenau, PhD, professor in the Department of Community Health and Prevention, Ataiants set out to investigate whether there was an association between interpersonal violence and drug overdose in women.

She surveyed a group of 220 female substance users through Prevention Point, a harm reduction agency in Philadelphia. Over half of the group had been victims of sexual violence and three-quarters had experienced physical violence as adults.

Seven out 10 women surveyed had overdosed, with half of the group reporting at least two overdoses.

Among those who had overdosed, 27 percent (33) reported some violence in the 24-48 hours prior to one of their overdoses. Almost half (14) of this group reported sexual violence and one fifth (7) reported physical violence preceding one of their overdoses.

“We found that any sexual violence experience over the lifetime increased the odds of having a high number of overdoses compared to never having an overdose,” said Ataintas. However, researchers found no significant association between exposure to lifetime severe physical violence and an increased risk of overdoses.

As a result of the findings, researchers recommend that overdose prevention training be integrated into existing violence support services for drug-using women.