Drug overdose deaths among seniors quadrupled over two decades

Drug overdose deaths among adults aged 65 and older have quadrupled over the last two decades, according to a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry. The research analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2002 to 2021, revealing a significant increase in drug-related deaths from 1,060 in 2002 (3 per 100,000) to 6,702 (12 per 100,000) in 2021. While drug overdose is still not a leading cause of death among Baby Boomers, more of them are receiving treatment for substance use disorders.

In a separate study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, researchers found that older adults’ rate of treatment for substance abuse also increased significantly between 2000 and 2017. The researchers found that the rate of people aged 55 or over receiving treatment increased from 8.8 per 1,000 people in 2000 to 15.1 per 1,000 in 2017. The increase was mostly due to treatment for cannabis and cocaine use, while alcohol-related treatment rates remained stable.

The Baby Boomer generation has consistently shown high rates of substance use, and as members of this generation enter older adulthood, the number of older adults seeking treatment for substance abuse has increased. Researchers also suggested that the reduced stigma associated with substance abuse might have contributed to the increase in treatment-seeking among older adults.

“The population of older adults in the US is growing, and so is the number who use cocaine and cannabis. We really need to think about how to best address this,”  T. Greg Rhee, a UConn School of Medicine psychiatric epidemiologist and the senior author of the study, said.

Drug overdose deaths have been increasing nationwide, affecting people of all ages, not just seniors.