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Study Finds that Older Americans Are Increasingly Affected by Opioid Epidemic

In a new study published in JAMA Network Open, data shows that older Americans are being affected by the opioid epidemic—and that overdose deaths have steadily increased over the past twenty years.

The opioid epidemic, particularly in recent years, has been portrayed as an epidemic of the young. With many teens and young adults becoming addicted to opioids at an increasingly young age, the media often centers its coverage on young people who are suffering from the brutal disease of addiction, though right alongside them, older adults are suffering, too.

The JAMA study reports that drug overdoses among those 55 and older surged from 518 deaths in 1999 to a staggering 10,292 in 2019. To put these figures in perspective, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded 70,630 total overdose deaths among all age groups in 2019, meaning that older Americans accounted for roughly 14% of all deaths.

For many older Americans suffering from an opioid use disorder, problems begin when a medication is prescribed for chronic pain, often following a surgery, an injury, or simply accumulated pain from years of overuse. In a 2019 survey of community-based organizations that assist aging Americans, 81% stated that older adults did not typically understand safe alternatives for pain reduction without the use of opioids.

Overall, nearly one million adults over the age of 65 live with a substance use disorder. As reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, older adults can be at risk for developing a substance use disorder due to frequently mixing prescription drugs, in addition to being more susceptible to chronic pain disorders and conditions.

How Older Americans Can Benefit from Addiction Treatment

Opioid overdoses have risen across the board since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with record numbers of depression and anxiety perhaps contributing to continued spikes. For the older population, feelings of loss, whether related to losing a loved one or an occupation, have certainly been magnified by the pandemic. As we progress into a second year of uncertainty and change, it will become more crucial than ever that addiction treatment resources be available to those who need them, including older adults.

While the tragedy of the opioid epidemic persists, it is important to note that older adults can receive—and do well in—addiction treatment. Experts have indicated that older adults have had more favorable long-term outcomes from alcohol and drug recovery when compared to their younger counterparts.

With each year that passes, we learn even more so that addiction does not discriminate. All age groups are susceptible to the disease and its effects—and all age groups can benefit from a personalized treatment plan that includes a combination of individual therapies, group therapies, and other methods that have been proven to aid in recovery.

At RECO Intensive, we provide highly specialized treatment that can help all age groups, including older adults who are suffering from opioid addiction. Learn more about our programs here.



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