Prescription Drug Abuse by Older Adults

Prescription Drug Abuse by Older Adults

The typical image of a drug user is typically not the retirement set. Though most people picture young adults as the general image for a person abusing drugs, there is a growing problem among adults aged 50 or older, with many older adults abusing pharmaceutical drugs.

Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health gives information about drug-related emergency department visits involving pharmaceutical misuse by older adults. The report indicates that non-medical pharmaceutical use among adults aged 50 to 59 has increased from 2.2 percent in 2002 to 3.9 percent in 2009. The report estimates that the number will double by 2020.

The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) issued a report that examined the occurrence of emergency department visits by older adults involving pharmaceutical misuse, observing trends between 2004 and 2008 with a focus on 2008 findings. The report shows that there was a dramatic increase in these types of emergency department visits. In 2004, there were approximately 115,803 visits of this type, and in 2008 there were 256,097 visits.

More of the third of the visits to emergency departments by older adults were aged 50 to 54. Slightly more than half of the visits were made by women, and the majority were made by non-Hispanic white adults (78.1 percent).

The most common drugs involved in the emergency department visits made by older adults was pain relievers (43.5 percent), with narcotic pain relievers the most popular type. After pain relievers, there were also many visits related to drugs used to treat anxiety or insomnia (31.8 percent) and anti-depressants (8.6 percent).

One in five emergency department visits also involved alcohol. Visits involving alcohol in combination with pharmaceuticals were more likely to be made by adults aged 50 to 64 than adults over the age of 65.

More than half of the older adults who were treated in the emergency department were treated and released, and more than one-third were admitted to the hospital. Of those admitted to the hospital, 62.9 percent were admitted to an inpatient unit and 24.1 percent were admitted into an intensive care unit.

With the baby boom generation experiencing a great increase in pharmaceutical misuse and abuse, treatment centers need to adapt to treating older adults. Most treatment centers instead focus their programs on younger people and may need to alter some parts of their programs to the unique challenges facing older adults trying to overcome a drug addiction.

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