The resurgence of heroin addictions among women is very real. And it's being fuelled by one big factor.

Content warning: This post includes discussion of suicidal ideation that may be distressing to some readers.

Georgia vividly remembers the first time she was prescribed strong opioids.

After injuring her back, Georgia went to her GP and was prescribed a variety of opioids for pain relief. She was careful not to take the medication too much as she didn't want to become dependent. Her father had been a GP his whole life, but had also battled a serious opioid addiction for decades.

Despite being cautious, Georgia became swept up in it all.

"I'm a single mum to two boys. I had previously tried heroin back when I was 19 and had struggled with alcohol for much of my life. At 46, dealing with homeschooling, my son's recent health diagnosis, and the pain from the back injury - the opioids made me feel good," she tells Mamamia.

As her dependency on the prescription medication worsened, she was no longer getting the relief she craved. It was at this point that heroin crept back into her life. 

"My GP grew concerned, cut me off the prescriptions, and so I then turned to doctor shopping. And when that didn't work, I met someone who knew how to get me heroin. I just wanted the physical and emotional pain to stop."

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The impact was swift.

"It's just been devastating. It became more of a psychological crutch for me and a deep addictive cycle that I couldn't break. Plus, I had my children taken off me twice in a year and nine months. It's been very heartbreaking," says Georgia.

It was at this point that Georgia started using needles. She was also struggling with her mental health, dealing with suicidal ideation.

Acknowledging that she needed help - and asking for support - was the best thing Georgia ever did. 

Sophie also knows how addictive heroin can be.

When she was 21, she tried heroin for the first time. She was immediately hooked. 

"I had a lot of childhood trauma and I had been going through a tough time. I had also just broken up with my ex, so I was spiralling," she tells Mamamia

"Since I was 14, I had smoked weed every day, and I had also done various party drugs. I wasn't a stranger to addiction. But heroin was different. The first time I used heroin, it felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders. Like all my pain had been washed away."

Sadly, that euphoric feeling didn't last. It never does. 


For the next nine years she experienced multiple rock bottoms, trying to get clean on a number of occasions. But it was a hard slog. There was a point in which she was using heroin every day - and it was no longer masking her trauma.

Four months ago, Sophie completed her rehab visit, and she has been sober since. 

"It's the longest I've ever been clean. I learned in rehab that addiction is an actual disease that needs to be dealt with every day - but I also learned there's support available," she explains. 

Now Sophie feels she's starting to regain her confidence, and she's receiving therapy and family support. 

While in recovery, Sophie met quite a few other women who were battling addiction. Some of them were also dealing with heroin addictions - and they spoke about the troubling path prescription opioids took them down.

"There was another girl who was younger than me in rehab, and she had been using heroin and fentanyl. She explained that it all started when she got an injury. She had to have surgery and from there she was given painkillers. She got addicted and began going on the streets to get more and the cycle began."

Anecdotally speaking, Sophie tells Mamamia she's seeing addiction to opioids of various kinds become more common in recent years. 

"I'm seeing younger people start to use opioids and they don't know what they're dealing with. It's quite dangerous, and heroin in particular is a really dangerous drug. They're playing with fire."


Prescription opioid addiction is an alarming trend that is on the rise, according to those who are on the frontline. 

According to the latest AODstats released by Turning Point, both in 2020/21 and 2021/22 there were more pharmaceutical-related hospitalisations among females, compared with males.

Richard Smith is the Founder and Program Director of the Hader Clinic, which is a specialist facility for drug and alcohol treatment.

Recently, Richard has noticed a concerning pattern among clients at the rehab facility.

These days, he says clients coming into the rehab are about 40 per cent female, 60 per cent male - the number of female addicts requesting help rising over the past decade. 

"We are now seeing a large uptick in females presenting with heroin addictions being fed by sustained opiate usage which then progresses. For a lot of these patients, their addiction begins with prescription opioids," Richard explains. 

"Australia tends to follow the trends witnessed in America, however a few years behind. As of May 2023, opioid prescribing has quadrupled over the past decade and kills more Aussies than any other drugs. The greatest concern for Australia now relates to the inevitable introduction of fentanyl [on the streets]- we've seen the impact in the US, and it's certain we'll feel the devastating impact too."

Richard himself understands just how addictive opioids can be.


In his earlier years, he was a heroin addict. He managed to stop using in 1985 after going into recovery and has been clean since. From that point on he has dedicated his life to working with addicts, alcoholics and their families.

"I was a poor kid who grew up in Melbourne and had entrepreneurial skills. I made my first million by the time I was 19. But I also liked heroin," he tells Mamamia. "I made a conscious decision to blow up my life."

A big obstacle addicts face in the journey to recovery is accessing the necessary funds for rehab.

"At the clinic, we've got two main streams of treatment. One is funded through private health insurance. Then we have the old traditional therapeutic community that is for people who don't have insurance that are paying out of pocket," explains Richard. 

"The aim is to try and keep it affordable. The gold standard of rehab is for the client to get 90 days in treatment."

Dr Robyn Walker has been a GP for over 20 years, and for the past decade she has been working directly with patients struggling with drugs and alcohol.

"I have patients on the opioid replacement therapy program who are being treated for heroin addiction that started with them being on prescription opioids for pain," she tells Mamamia

"It's great to see that there's been a crackdown on GPs prescribing opioids to patients as a first resort. The issue however is that replacement therapy programs or support are not being offered enough to the patients already taking prescription opioids."


This particular group of medicines is well known for being highly addictive. 

Recently Dr Walker had a female patient ask for assistance, after the woman's GP was disbarred for inappropriate prescribing of medication. This patient is now showing addiction-like symptoms, and has admitted to going down illegal routes to access any form of the drug, after her legal avenue to access was cut cold turkey.

It's stories like these that Dr Walker wants the public to hear about.

"In my opinion, long-term opioids - whether prescription or not - are just plain trouble. Nothing good comes from it."

Georgia is now in recovery and on a healing path.

She is thankful for her loved ones who have helped her get into rehab financially, and she is still an inpatient at the Hader Clinic indefinitely.

Reflecting on all she's endured, but also all she has achieved in recovery so far, Georgia wants people to know how "f**ked the opioid industry is".

The support she has received though has been a tremendous help, emphasising the power of community. 

"I'm now choosing life over wanting to die. That's a big thing. For so long I put the oxygen mask on my children before putting it on myself and I ran out of air. As a single mum I had been wearing this backpack full of guilt for so long. Now I'm discovering my self-worth again and true value," she tells Mamamia.


Now in recovery, Georgia said she is getting professional support not only for addiction, but also for the trauma she has endured throughout her life. She also sees each day in recovery as a step closer to being able to see her kids again.

"I'm doing classes, therapy lessons, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous - all of that has been life-saving. I want other people who are going through addiction to know they can reach out and they won't be judged. 

"So many mothers in particular have such shame and guilt - if they have the support in the first place, we can make sure no one else endures this."

Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are free programs available across Australia. You can find further information on support groups near you via their websites. 

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

If this post brought up any issues for you, you can contact Drug Aware, Australia's 24hr alcohol and drug support line. You can reach them on (08) 9442 5000 or 1800 198 024.

Georgia and Sophie are known to Mamamia, but their last names have been omitted for privacy reasons. A stock image has also been used. 

Feature Image: Getty.