According to two new reports by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths from drug misuse and alcohol addiction appear to be increasing in older Americans. This is similar to recent increases among younger adults.
According to a Wednesday report by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, the rate of drug overdose deaths among seniors has more than tripled over the past 20 years. More than 5,000 Americans aged 65 or older died from a drug overdose in 2020.
Although drug overdose deaths for older adults are lower than in other age groups and accounted for 0.2% of all deaths in 2020 among adults 65 years and older, such deaths continue to rise. The rates of drug overdose deaths among seniors 65 years and older rose from 2.4 to 8 per 100,000 between 2000 and 2020.
A new report by the National Center for Health Statistics shows that alcohol-related deaths among older adults (65 and over) have increased since 2011, and have increased more than 18% between 2019 and 2020. More than 11,000 seniors died from alcohol-induced causes in 2020.
Ellen Kramarow, a National Center for Health Statistics health statistician and author of the new reports, stated in an email that “It is important to describe changes in these causes of death for all age groups, including the elderly.”
Kramarow and her coworkers did not examine the causes of these increases. However, Kramarow stated that it was not unreasonable to assume that those 65 and over are also affected by the same forces that affect younger people.
According to preliminary data from the CDC, drug overdose deaths in America reached their highest-ever level last year. Overdose deaths in the USA have been increasing for many years, but they increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. Experts cite financial and mental stressors as reasons behind the increase.
Rates of drug and alcohol-related deaths in older adults
Based on data from CDC’s National Vital Statistics System System, the report on drug overdose deaths found that opioid-related death rates were highest in cases involving synthetic opioids other than methadone.
Fentanyl can be 100 times stronger than morphine. The death rate from synthetic opioids rose by 53% in older adults between 2019 and 2020. It increased from 1.9 to 2.9% per 100,000 people.
Between 2000 and 2020, the number of drug overdose deaths among men rose more than that among women. It rose from 2.7 to 12.3 deaths for every 100,000 men to 2.3 to 5.8 deaths for every 100,000 women. There were also some racial differences in the data, indicating that non-Hispanic Black men aged 65 or older had higher drug overdose death rates than Hispanic and White men. Black women aged 65-74 had the highest rates of drug overdose deaths, while women 75 and older had the highest.
Based on CDC data, the report on alcohol-induced death found that, although they account for less than 1% of all deaths among seniors 65 and over, their death rates rose between 2019 and 2020. They increased from 17.1 to 20.1 deaths per 100 people.
Higher rates of alcohol-induced death were seen in men. According to the report, between 2019 and 2020, the rate for men aged 65-74 rose from 36.5 to 43.4 per 100, while rates for men 75 years and older increased from 19.8 and 21.5 respectively.
For women, the alcohol-induced death rates rose from 10.2 to 12.9 in those 65-74 years old and from 4.4 and 5.3 for those 75 years and older.
These data also revealed some racial differences. It was found that alcohol-induced deaths in adults over 65 years old were higher for Alaska Native or American Indian adults than for those White, Black, Asian, and White.
According to Peter Hendricks (a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health Department of Health Behaviour), excessive drinking can have greater consequences for older adults than for younger ones, which can lead to higher death rates.
Hendricks, who wasn’t involved in the new reports, said that “as we age, the way we metabolize drugs changes and as a result, the effects of alcohol vary as we age.” “It is common for many people to have significant intoxication or inebriation after consuming moderate or reasonable amounts of alcohol at one time or another.”
Hendricks says that older adults who have had too many drinks are more likely to fall if they’re at home.
He said that falls, motor vehicle accidents, and other types of accidents increase as we age due to changes in motor coordination. “What may be considered casual alcohol consumption can eventually turn deadly because alcohol further impairs motor coordination. This could result in a fatal fall at home, for instance.
The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics released a separate report Wednesday, showing that unintentional fall deaths have also increased in adults 65 years and older between 2000 and 2020.
An alarming rise in suicide rates
Hendricks stated that although the National Center for Health Statistics reports were based on annual data, there were likely seasonal trends. He expects that the number of drug-related deaths and injuries will increase as the winter holidays, particularly Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, approach.
Hendricks stated that “you see certain periods when these deaths cluster,” adding that it might be a mistake to think such trends are only associated with holiday loneliness.
People often believe that as you age, your life will become more difficult and sad. We find that older people are generally happier than their younger counterparts. He said that one reason is that older people are happier and live longer.
He stated that “the main problem is that you become more susceptible to the risks from drinking: the effects of motor coordination, heart function and pulmonary function on the immune system, as well as the effects on the immune system, as you age.” Even small amounts of alcohol can be very damaging to your body.
Lori Ann Post, the Buehler professor in geriatrics and emergency medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, stated that the findings regarding drug- and alcohol-induced deaths were “very alarming.” She sent an email.
“Because we are accustomed to thinking of older adults as not having a substance abuse disorder or being at risk for overdose, it is not common for us to think of them as such. Post, who wasn’t involved in the reports, but has researched rising rates of opioid overdose deaths among older adults, said that there is no doubt that there is an undercount.
Post and her coworkers found that opioid overdose deaths among older Americans rose 1,886% from 1999 to 2019, and published their findings in the journal JAMA Network Open. The post stated that the findings of the new report were consistent with their findings.
“Older adults have a higher risk of drug interactions than younger adults, a lower ability to metabolize drugs, and higher rates of social isolation and depression, which can lead to self-sedation. She stated that we need to remove the stigma so that older adults can be treated. “Unfortunately, there are not a lot of substance abuse treatment programs that cater to older adults.”
Post stressed that all older adults should be screened by their primary care doctors, surgeons, and emergency medicine doctors. They should also refer them to substance and mental health treatment if necessary.