Drug overdose deaths among the elderly have more than tripled in 2 decades

Drug overdose deaths among the elderly have more than tripled in 2 decades

Drug and alcohol-related deaths are on the rise among older adults in America.

Drug overdose deaths more than tripled among people age 65 and older over the past two decades, while alcohol abuse deaths increased by more than 18% from 2019 to 2020, according to data released Wednesday. National Center for Health Statistics.

More than 800,000 elderly people suffered from drug addiction, and 2.7 million from alcohol addiction in 2020. according to separate data from the Department of Health and Social Services.

In total, more than 5,000 seniors died of drug overdoses in 2020, and more than 11,600 succumbed to alcohol, according to NCHS data. Although drug overdose death rates are lower for the elderly than for other age groups, they have increased significantly from 2.4 per 100,000 in 2000 to 8.8 per 100,000 in 2020.

“We have a public health problem on our doorstep — these trends have been growing for a long time,” said Alexis Kuerbis, a professor at the Silberman School of Social Work and an expert on drug use among older adults.

Older people today are the baby boomers, a generation that had a much more open attitude towards drugs and alcohol than their parents, Kuerbis said. Some baby boomers have carried alcohol and drug habits from youth and middle age into later years when their bodies can no longer tolerate them, she said.

“Baby boomers are obviously a very different generation than the silent generation or the World War II generation,” Kuerbis said. “Baby boomers were far more open to alcohol and drug use during their younger years, but also through their middle years, and now they’re older,” she said.

Deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids rose 53% among the elderly from 2019 to 2020, according to the data. Kuerbis said there is some evidence to suggest that people who were prescribed opioids for injury in middle age later switched to fentanyl after it became harder to get a prescription.

If you have suicidal thoughts or are in trouble, please reach out Suicide and Crisis Line at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor.

While some drug deaths among seniors are caused by accidental drug abuse, many are suicides due to opioid overdoses, Kuerbis said. While older adults tend to be happier than younger adults, they also have a higher prevalence of chronic pain, terminal illness and dementia, she said.

Some older adults also use drugs or alcohol to cope with major life changes such as retirement, grief and loss, or a change in living situation, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Drug overdose deaths were highest among black seniors. According to the data, the drug death rate among black men aged 65 to 74 was more than four times the death rate of Hispanic or white men in that age group. Black women aged 65 to 74 were more likely to die of drug overdoses than white and Hispanic women. White women over the age of 75 had a higher drug-related death rate than black and Hispanic women.

According to the data, alcohol-related deaths were highest among older American Indians, followed by Hispanics, white Americans, black Americans and Asian Americans.

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