Nov. 30, 2022 -- Drug overdose deaths among people over 65 more than tripled in the last 20 years, and the deaths from alcohol abuse rose 18% from 2019 to 2020, according to government data released Wednesday.
Drug overdoses claimed more than 5,000 lives in 2020 and alcohol more than 11,600, the National Center for Health Statistics said.
“We’ve got a public health problem coming at our door — these trends have been increasing for a long time now,” Alexis Kuerbis, a professor and an expert on substance use among older adults, toldCNBC.
Part of the increase in drug use is due to the nature of the current generation of people over 65 – generally Baby Boomers, who came of age amid more lax standards regarding drug and alcohol use, she said.
“Baby boomers obviously are very different generation than the silent generation or the World War II generation,” Kuerbis said. “Baby boomers were far more open to using alcohol and drugs during their younger years but also through their middle-aged years and now they are older adults,” she said.
Deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids increased 53% among seniors from 2019 to 2020, according to the data.
Some of the deaths are accidental, but some are suicides, Kuerbis said.
Some seniors use drugs or alcohol to cope with difficulties of aging, the National institute of Drug Abuse says. And many struggle with pain, illness, and memory loss.
Drug overdose deaths are lower than among other age groups but have risen from 2.4 per 100,000 in 2000 to 8.8 per 100,000 in 2020.