Substance abuse rates among older adults are on the increase
Today’s older adults are the generation that created the culture of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. The 1960s rallying call of that generation was best exemplified by Timothy Leary’s “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” This year, the first wave of the counterculture generation becomes eligible for Social Security, Medicare and discount early bird meals at the local cafeteria.
Researchers report that not all of the baby boomers who discovered marijuana, cocaine and other drugs as young people have given them up.
Two new federal studies support this assertion. Although substance abuse is more common among younger adults (18 to 49), the rate of illicit drug use among older adults 50 to 59 increased from 2.7 percent in 2002 to 4.6 percent in 2008 and continues to climb. The statistic comes from a new study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA. The report indicates that 4.3 million older adults (4.7 percent) used an illicit drug in the past year. Men are more likely than women to abuse alcohol, marijuana and other illicit drugs. Male and female older adults report similar rates for abuse of prescription drugs.
The SAMHSA report also shows there are age cohorts among older substance abusers. Those 65 and older prefer prescription drugs, while other older adults choose marijuana.
Additionally, many older adults use prescription and over-the-counter medications that could interact adversely with illicit drugs and may themselves have the potential for abuse. This does not include the use of legal drugs such as alcohol.
Older adults abusing drugs are more likely to end up in an emergency room. The Drug Abuse Warning Network estimates that 118,495 emergency visits involved illicit drug use by older adults in 2008. Cocaine was the most common cause of emergency room visits (63 percent), followed by heroin (27 percent), marijuana (19 percent), and illicit stimulants (5 percent). Nearly a third of these visits also involved alcohol.
Of these visits, one person in 10 was referred to psychiatric or chemical dependency/detoxification services. It is becoming increasingly important to understand and plan for substance use prevention and treatment needs of this vulnerable population because the numbers will inevitably grow.
The number of adults 50 and older with substance abuse problems is projected to double from about 2.5 million in 1999 to about 5 million in 2020. These numbers directly translate to increased demand for treatment.
Reducing and treating drug use problems among the growing older adult population requires both medical and behavioral intervention. Although older adults are less likely to abuse substances, when they do they are more likely to end up harming themselves. If you need help with substance abuse call the hotline provided by the San Diego County Adult Emergency and Crisis Mental Health at (800) 479-3339. You remember the call to turn on, tune in, drop out. Just don’t drop dead.
By Mario Garrett
April 19, 2011