Fatal drug ODs among US seniors have quadrupled in 20 years

by Kara Murez

healthday reporter

THURSDAY, March 30, 2023 (HealthDay News) — Drug overdose deaths — both accidental and intentional — have quadrupled over the past 20 years among older adults in the United States, a new study finds.

The authors said this increase in people 65 and older suggests a need for better mental health and substance use policies.

“The dramatic increase in overdose deaths among adults over the age of 65 over the past two decades underscores the importance for physicians and policy makers to consider overdose as a problem,” said the co-authors. The author Chelsea Shower is Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine.

“Updating Medicare to cover evidence-based treatment of substance use disorders is critical, as is providing harm reduction medications like naloxone,” Showar said in a school press release.

Nearly three quarters of those who died by accident used illicit drugs, including synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. In 67% of intentional overdoses, seniors used drugs including opioids, antidepressants, benzodiazepines, antiepileptics, and sedatives.

The researchers calculated overdose deaths among seniors from 2002 to 2021, using a database from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The researchers compared demographic data, specific drugs and whether the deaths were intentional, accidental or undetermined.

They found that the rate of fatal overdoses is expected to quadruple from 1,060 in 2002, or 3 per 100,000, to 6,702 in 2021, or 12 per 100,000. Black seniors had the highest rate at 30.9 per 100,000.

The report states that by 2021, 1 in 370 senior citizens will die due to an overdose. About 57% of those involved used opioids, 39% used stimulants, and 18% used a combination of the two types of drugs.

About 13% of overdoses in 2021 were intentional and 83% were accidental. Another 4% were undetermined and 0.7% – five people – were murdered.

According to the study, women accounted for 57% of intentional overdoses and 29% of accidental overdoses.

The researchers also found that 37% of overdoses among Asian-Americans were intentional, compared to 17% among whites and 1% among blacks.

The rate of deaths from alcohol poisoning decreased from 0.03 per 100,000 to 0.5 per 100,000 during the study period.

“While drug overdose remains an uncommon cause of death among older adults in the US, the quadrupling of fatal overdoses among older adults should be considered when developing policies targeting the overdose epidemic,” the researchers wrote. “Current proposals for improved mental health coverage and resource utilization within Medicare, for example through the application of mental health parity rules within Medicare, take on greater urgency in light of the results of this study.”

The study findings were published on March 29 JAMA Psychiatry,

more information

The US National Safety Council has more information on drug overdose.

Source: UCLA, press release, March 29, 2023

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