Friday, June 18, 2010

Older Americans Stru

Older Americans Struggling with Drug Addiction Wall Street Journal, 6/17/10 WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)--A government report released Wednesday shows a rise in the proportion of older Americans who are struggling with cocaine, heroin and marijuana. In the period between 1992 and 2008, the proportion of substance abuse treatment admissions involving people who were at least 50 years old nearly doubled. It jumped from 6.6% of all admissions in 1992 to 12.2% in 2008, the most recent year for which data is available. The data was gathered from treatment centers across the country. While alcohol abuse is still the leading cause for admissions, the study--sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA--also shows a sharp rise in the proportion of older Americans who were admitted to treatment centers because they were struggling with illegal drugs. Jennifer Cofield, a 55-year-old mother and wife who lives in upstate New York near Lake Delta, struggled with substance abuse when she was in her late forties and early fifties. At the age of 52, she checked in to Seabrook House, an inpatient treatment center on a 40-acre estate in New Jersey. She has since kicked her habit. "I was a heroin snorter," she said. "If you had asked me 10 years ago if I would have ever tried heroin, my answer would have been, 'Are you out of your mind?'" But Cofield said she decided to try heroin after her 29-year-old daughter died of breast cancer. "That was the catalyst for me to find something to numb myself," she said. At that time she was in her late forties. "I just thought it was very unusual to be 48 and a heroin addict right out of the blue," she said. "When I went to rehab I was the oldest woman there until a woman came in who was in her sixties." Still, the SAMHSA study shows that older adults are making up more of the population at the nation's drug treatment centers. Between 1992 and 2008, the proportion of older Americans involved in heroin abuse more than doubled, going from 7.2% to 16%. Cocaine abuse almost quadrupled, going from 2.9% to 11.4% and prescription drug abuse rose from 0.7% to 3.5%. Additionally, marijuana abuse increased from 0.6% to 2.9%. Alcohol abuse-related admissions actually fell, going from 84.6% in 1992 to 59.9% in 2008. Peter Delaney, director of SAMHSA's office of applied studies said part of the reason older adults are making up more of the population at the nation's treatment centers is because the U.S. population--particularly the baby boom generation--is aging. Also, the study shows that about 75% of the older adults being treated at rehabilitation centers started using drugs when they were 25 or younger, so "there is a solid group of adults now who have been using for quite a long time," Delaney said. However, there isn't a lot of data about how different types of illegal drugs affect older adults, who are more likely to have slower metabolisms and to suffer from dehydration. "What that points to is our need to be pretty proactive in reaching out to older adults before it becomes a problem," Delaney said. "I think we think about prevention only for young kids. We also need to begin to think about prevention options for older adults." The study also suggests that an increasing number of older Americans are starting to experiment with drugs later in life. Delaney, a social worker by training, said there are usually two reasons people turn to drugs: "to feel better or to feel good." But it's important to find out why more older adults are starting up drug habits. "That's something we're going to be looking at a little more closely. We don't know what that's about," said Delaney. The report also found that substance abuse in older adults can be hard to diagnose because symptoms are often the same as other medical problems common among this population, such as diabetes. "These findings show the changing scope of substance abuse problems in America," said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela Hyde in a statement. "The graying of drug users in America is an issue for any programs and communities providing health or social services for seniors." -By Maya Jackson Randall, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-257-6313,

No comments: