More older people die from opioid overdose, study finds

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In a new study from Northwestern Medicine, researchers found analyzed 20 years of fatal opioid overdose data in adults 55 and older.

Between 1999 and 2019, opioid-related overdose deaths increased exponentially in U.S. adults ages 55 and older, from 518 deaths in 1999 to 10,292 deaths in 2019: a 1,886% increase.

In the 20-year span, 79,893 people in the U.S. aged 55 to 80 died by opioid overdose, with about half being between 55 and 64 years old.

The annual overall death rate per 100,000 people 55 years and up ranged from a low of 0.9 in 1999 to a high of 10.7 in 2019 and increased annually from 2000 on, the study found.

The team says ageism is one of the contributing factors for the increase in fatal opioid overdoses among older adults.

Doctors often don’t screen for drug misuse during appointments with older people because it doesn’t fit the stereotype of what it means to be old.

African-American men experienced the largest increases in opioid overdose deaths among older adults since 2013, the study found.

By 2019, the opioid overdose fatality rate among non-Hispanic Black or African-American males ages 55 and up was 40.03 per 100,000 population—four times greater than the overall opioid fatality rate of others of the same age.

The team says that Black men are also more likely to have experienced trauma, lack access to health insurance and health care, don’t trust health care providers and are undertreated for pain compared to other subpopulations of older adults.

The study suggests other contributing factors in the exponential increase among older adults.

They could include social isolation and depression; exposure to medically prescribed opioids for chronic conditions such as arthritis and cancer, which increase with age; declining cognitive function that may interfere with taking opioids as prescribed.

In addition, the body’s ability to metabolize opioids decreases with age, meaning people are more vulnerable to overdose.

If you care about health, please read studies that people with stroke and heart disease should use opioids cautiously, and less than 10% of people with opioid overdose get proper treatments.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about why COVID-19 can trigger severe disease and death, and results showing scientists warn of next ‘wave’ of opioid overdose deaths.

The study is published in JAMA Network Open. One author of the study is Maryann Mason.

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