May 17, 2022 - Health

Seniors see spike in drug-related deaths

An ambulance with lights flashing.
Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Drug-related deaths among adults 65 and older doubled over the course of a decade, with overdoses and misuse of prescription medications from 2018 to 2020 weighing hardest on Black communities, a new report from UnitedHealth Group finds.

Why it matters: While adolescents and young adults have received much of the attention as U.S. overdose deaths hit new records, seniors have posted the largest increase in intentional and unintentional deaths compared with other age groups 15 and older, according to the report.

Driving the news: Drug deaths among older adults rose from 4.2 per 100,000 to 8.4 per 100,000 between the 2008–2010 timeframe and 2018–2020 per the report.

  • Drug fatalities among adults ages 65–74 jumped 147% over that interval.
  • Black adults were more than 10 times likelier to die as a result of drug use than older Asian adults, and the death rate among males was double that for females.
  • Drug-related deaths were highest for older adults in the District of Columbia (49.5 per 100,000) and lowest in Nebraska (3.3 per 100,000).

What the found: Behavioral health measures have generally worsened for older adults, citing frequent mental distress, depression and substance abuse, the report said.

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