By Cara Murez
health day 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, according to a new study.
This increase in the number of people aged 65 and over suggests the need for stronger mental health and substance use policies, the authors said.
“The dramatic increase in overdose deaths among adults over the age of 65 over the past two decades highlights how important it is for clinicians and policy makers to consider overdose as a lifelong problem” , said co-writer Chelsea Shover, an assistant. professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine.
“Updating Medicare to cover evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders is crucial, as is providing harm reduction supplies such as naloxone to older adults,” Shover said. in a school press release.
About three-quarters of those who died accidentally used illicit drugs, including synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. In 67% of intentional overdoses, seniors used prescription drugs, including opioids, antidepressants, benzodiazepines, antiepileptics and sedatives.
The researchers calculated overdose deaths in older adults from 2002 to 2021, using a database from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Investigators compared demographics, specific medications and whether the deaths were intentional, unintentional or undetermined.
They found that fatal overdoses quadrupled 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 rates, at 30.9 per 100,000.
In 2021, 1 in 370 elderly deaths was due to an overdose, the report notes. About 57% of them involved opioids, 39% involved stimulants, and 18% included a combination of both types of drugs.
About 13% of overdoses in 2021 were intentional and 83% unintentional. Another 4% were undetermined and 0.7% – five people – were murdered.
Women accounted for 57% of intentional overdoses and 29% of accidental overdoses, according to the study.
The researchers also determined that 37% of overdoses among Asian Americans were intentional, compared to 17% among whites and 1% among blacks.
Alcohol poisoning deaths declined from less than 0.03 per 100,000 to 0.5 per 100,000 during the study period.
“Even though drug overdose remains a rare cause of death among older adults in the United States, the quadrupling of fatal overdoses among older adults should be considered in changing policies focused on the overdose epidemic” , the researchers wrote. “Current proposals to improve mental health and substance use disorder coverage within Medicare, for example, the enforcement of mental health parity rules within Medicare, are gaining momentum. greater urgency in light of the results of this study.”
The results of the study were published on March 29 in JAMA Psychiatry.
The US National Safety Council has more on drug overdoses.
SOURCE: UCLA, press release, March 29, 2023