Boomers Struggle With Drug Addiction
> 5/3/2006 12:59:55 PM

The cover of the most recent Psychiatric Times prominently declares: "Drug Abuse Hitting Middle-aged More Than Gen-Xers." The article dives in from the get go:

Drug abusers today are more likely to be in their mid-30s to mid-50s or 60s. The consequences include increased drug related deaths and increased crime rates and arrests in the adult population.

It would appear that drug control efforts that have traditionally been aimed at teens over the years are working. According to the article nearly 700,000 fewer teens are using illicit drugs that 4 years ago. But the most interesting information has to do with drug related deaths.

“Of 3700 drug deaths in California during 2003, only 51 were [in people] under the age of 20.” Consistent with this trend in drug-related deaths, the Drug Addiction Help Line, a referral service, reported that the average age of a person likely to die of a drug overdose was 43 years in 2005, up from 32 years in 1985 and 22 years in 1970.

The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), an arm of SAMHSA, publishes findings on drug related mortality. They found that in 30 metropolitan areas, more than half of all drug misuse deaths happened to those aged 35 ro 54. In Detroit, Milwaukee and Washington, DC this group accounted for three fourths of such deaths. DAWN also found that "35- to 44- year-olds led all other age groups in ED visits for every category of illicit drug use. Combined with the 45- to 54- year age group, they accounted for 53% of visits for cocaine use, 48% of heroin cases, 31% of marijuana cases, and 32% of cases involving stimulants."

The Psychiatric Times article goes on to discuss how multiple drugs, and many times prescription drugs, are usually involved in drug related deaths. Narcotics like OxyContin have become more and more commonplace in these types of situations.

Beyond just death however, the article discusses how crime has seen major increases to go along with the rise in middle age drug use. In California alone, convictions for adults jumped from 84,000 in 1975 to more than 200,000 in 2004.

There are many issues in play with this problem. In most cases, boomers were not raised with the same emphasis on drug prevention as more recent generations have been. Could this have led to the numbers that we see today? Also, drug potencies have increased significantly over the last quarter century. Could this rise in potency have served to increase the destructiveness of otherwise marginal drug addictions in boomers? Yet to be seen is how specifically this high rate of drug abuse will effect the aging mind and bodies of older addicts. Beyond the death rates that we see in the statistics, will there be larger health care burdens? And maybe most importantly, how can we prevent future generations from following similar paths in the decades to come?

While the statistics from the article give us an idea of what is happening, the overarching questions persist. Continued research, both in the lab and through statistical analysis, will help begin to provide some answers.

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