Mortality from drug and alcohol use is on the rise among America’s older people.
Deaths from drug overdose among people aged 65 and over have more than tripled in the past two decades, while deaths from alcohol abuse have increased by more than 18% since 2019, according to data released Wednesday by the National Center for Health Statistics. by 2020.
In 2020, more than 800,000 older people suffered from drug addiction and 2.7 million from alcoholism. according to separate data from the Department of Health and Human Services.
In total, more than 5,000 older people have died from drug overdoses in 2020, and more than 11,600 people have died from alcohol, according to the NCHS. Although the death rate from drug overdose among the elderly is lower than in other age groups, it has increased significantly from 2.4 per 100,000 people in 2000 to 8.8 per 100,000 people in 2020.
“We are facing a public health issue – these trends have been on the rise for a long time,” said Alexis Cuerbis, a professor at the Silberman School of Social Work and an expert on substance use among the elderly.
According to Cuerbis, today’s seniors are baby boomers, a generation that was much more open about drugs and alcohol than their parents. According to her, some Baby Boomers carried the addiction to alcohol and drugs from adolescence and middle age into later years, when their bodies can no longer tolerate them.
“Baby boomers are obviously a very different generation than the silent generation or the World War II generation,” Cuerbis said. “Baby boomers were much more likely to use alcohol and drugs in their younger years as well as in middle age, and now they are older people,” she said.
Deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids among the elderly increased by 53% from 2019 to 2020, according to the data. Cuerbis said there is some evidence that people who were prescribed opioids in middle age for trauma later switched to fentanyl when it became harder to get a prescription.
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While some deaths among older adults are related to accidental drug abuse, many of them are suicides due to opioid overdose, Cuerbis said. While older people tend to be happier than younger people, she says, they also have a higher prevalence of chronic pain, terminal illness and dementia.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, some older people also use drugs or alcohol to cope with major life changes, such as retirement, grief, and the loss or change in their life situation.
Drug overdose deaths were highest among black older adults. According to the data, the drug-related death rate among black men aged 65 to 74 was more than four times higher than that of Hispanic or white men in that age group. Black women aged 65 to 74 were more likely to die from drug overdoses than whites and Hispanics. White women over 75 had higher rates of drug-related deaths than blacks and Hispanics.
Alcohol-related deaths were highest among older American Indians, followed by Hispanics, white Americans, black Americans, and Asian Americans, according to the data.