Drug overdose deaths have quadrupled among older US adults

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Opioids play a big role in increase in drug overdose deaths in US

shutterstock/Steve Heap

Fatal drug overdoses among older adults in the US have quadrupled over the past two decades, indicating the problem is not only affecting young people.

drug overdose deaths have occurred There has been a steady increase in the US since 1999largely due to the proliferation of prescription and illegal opioids such as morphine, oxycodone, and fentanyl.

“There has been an overabundance of attention among young people,” says Chelsea Shower at the University of California, Los Angeles. “We wanted to understand to what extent this is happening among older adults.”

She and her colleagues gathered data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on overdose deaths in adults 65 and older Wonder Database, The database tracks every death recorded in the country, including the person’s age, race, gender and cause of death.

The researchers found that between 2002 and 2021, the fatal overdose rate among older adults quadrupled. In 2002, three out of every 100,000 adults aged 65 and older in the US died of a drug overdose. In 2021, that number rises to 12 out of every 100,000. Rates were highest among non-Hispanic black people and Native Americans, although Asian and non-Hispanic white people had higher rates of intentional overdose deaths. for reference, 62 out of every 100,000 adults People between the ages of 35 and 44 in the US will die of drug overdoses in 2021.

Most fatal drug overdoses among older adults in 2021 involved illegal drugs, but 37 percent involved prescription drugs. Opioids, including prescription opioids, played a role in 57 percent of overdose deaths.

“Compared to other parts of the population, older adults are generally prescribed more things, including more medications that can lead to overdoses, whether alone or combined,” says Shovar. They also do not metabolize drugs efficiently, which increases the risk of overdose. Alexis Kurbis at Hunter College in New York, who was not involved in the study

“Understanding the scope of this problem is important in order to better create policies to provide more equitable healthcare for older adults,” says Shovar. For example, Medicare — the federal health insurance program for older adults in the US — is not required to cover mental health and substance abuse disorder treatment to the same degree as other health conditions, she says.


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