The Majority of Opioid Abusers Are Not in the Age Group You Might Suspect


Younger patients may get a bad rep for misusing prescription medications, but they do not make up the prominent group who get the interventions.

Younger patients may get a bad rep for misusing prescription medications, but they do not make up the prominent group who get the interventions.

One of the major concerns associated with prescription drugs is the risk of misuse and abuse. The addictive properties of opioids make the analgesics potentially dangerous. Researchers from New York University’s Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR) and NYU’s School of Medicine (NYUSoM) examined trends in opioid treatment programs in New York City with a focus on older patients and they found that there has been a major increase in admissions.

“Most notably, we found a pronounced age trend in those utilizing opioid treatment programs from 1996 to 2012, with adults aged 50 and older becoming the majority treatment population,” principle investigator Benjamin Han, MD, MPH, an instructor at NYUSoM, said in a news release.

A total of 37,038 patients in 1996 and 34,270 patients in 2012 were in opioid treatment in NYC. Although the overall number of enrollments has decreased, older adult admissions are on the rise. In 1996, individuals from ages 50 to 59 made up 7.8% (2,892 patients) of the opioid treatment population. By 2012, that percentage jumped to 35.9% (12,301 patients). There were also notable increases in other older age groups, except for Ë‚40 and 41 to 49 which both decreased:

  • Ë‚40: 56.2% to 20.5% (20,804 to 7,035 patients)
  • 41 to 49: Nearly 35% to just over 30%
  • 60 to 69: 1.5% to 12% (558 to 4,099 patients)
  • ˃70: 0.2% to 1.1% (65 to 370 patients)

“These increases are especially striking, considering there was about a 7.6% decrease in the total patient population over that period of time, and suggests that we are facing a never before seen epidemic of older adults with substance use disorders and increasing numbers of older adults in substance abuse treatment,” Han explained.

The data published in the Journal of Substance Use & Misuse revealed differences in treatment admissions between racial groups from 1996 to 2012. The patients over 60 increased 10.3% for Caucasians, but decreased 13.8% for African Americans. There was a slight increase for Hispanics (35% to 38.8%). However, these trends were different for ages 50 to 59, who had the greatest admissions in 2012. There were decreases for Caucasians (3.5%) and African Americans (5.9%) and a larger increase for Hispanics (9.2%).

It’s believed that the trend of older adults admitted to opioid treatment programs will continue to increase for the next decade.

“Unfortunately there is a lack of knowledge about the burden of chronic diseases and geriatric conditions or the cognitive and physical function of this growing population,” Han concluded.

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