Opioid Misuse Keeps Rising Among Older Americans

Written by Kara Morris, HealthDay Reporter>

Thursday, January 13, 2022 – The opioid addict you know may not be the college kid who’s always been into alcohol and drugs.

It could be your grandfather.

New research shows that opioid abuse does not discriminate by age — and rates are rising steadily among adults aged 55 and over.

“You can still use recreational drugs at an older age. You could have had an STD at an older age, but I think we don’t think about that, because of stereotypes about what it means to be an adult,” researcher Marianne said. She is an associate professor of emergency medicine at the Buhler Center for Health Policy and Economics at Northwestern University in Chicago.

Mason and a team from Northwestern Medical School took a closer look at opioid use and mortality in older Americans, breaking down the problem by age, gender, race, and ethnicity.

Researchers found that between 1999 and 2019, nearly 80,000 Americans aged 55 and older died of opioid overdose, with a decrease of 0.9 per 100,000 in 1999 and a rise of 10.7 per 100,000 in 2019. This is an increase By 1,886% in just 20 years.

Of those who died during those years, nearly 59% were men and nearly 80% were between the ages of 55 and 64, according to the report published online Jan. 11 in JAMA Network is open.

By 2013, trends began to diverge by race. By 2019, this meant that deaths from opioid overdose for non-Hispanic black men were about four times the overall rate for others of the same age.

Mason said context is important. Black Americans traditionally did not receive adequate treatment for their pain due to discriminatory medical practices. They disproportionately live in communities with less access to treatment programs and less access to effective drug-supported care.

Mason suggested that the trend may be due in part to the fact that this age group includes people who were exposed to drugs while serving in the Vietnam War.

Dr. Lawrence Brown Jr., who leads START, the nonprofit organization that is the largest independent drug treatment agency in New York, reviewed the study results.

He noted that black Americans are a diverse group and that remedial solutions may vary slightly depending on individual perspectives. The average age of START clients is 55 years and most of them are minorities.

Brown noted that older adults may be more likely to be prescribed pain relievers due to more common medical conditions as they age, including cancer. So they may be more likely to be addicted by “legitimate pathways” than younger people, he said.

He added that because START provides primary medical care, it is able to monitor the treatment of many diseases, not just drug abuse.

“I would say to our counselors,” Brown said, “How well does your treatment plan address other concurrent medical problems that may and may not be related to substance use disorder?” “So, in other words, if they don’t have a primary care provider, how do we help connect them to a primary care provider?”

Older adults are more at risk of poor outcomes from opioid use because people metabolize medications differently as they age, Mason said. They may die from a lower dose than if they were younger.

The researchers said their findings point to the need for increased screening of older adults for substance use disorder. The study recommends adapting sensitization and treatment models to this age group.

“This actually comes at a good time with the expansion of Medicaid, where you could be able to offer health care insurance to those of pre-Medicare age, like 55 to 64,” Mason said.

With the ability to see more people in healthcare settings, she said it’s also important to do more investigation into drug use.

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