Increasing Numbers of Older Adults in Substance Abuse Treatment

Recent years have seen an increase in their admission to substance abuse treatment and increased injection drug use among those over the age of 50.

Researchers affiliated with New York University’s Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR), and NYU’s School of Medicine (NYUSoM) recently studied trends for opioid treatment programs, with an emphasis on older adults, in a study published in the Journal of Substance Use & Misuse. The investigation focuses on such trends in New York City, as it has one of the largest methadone treatment systems in the U.S. but could be representative of the population as a whole.

The study, “Demographic Trends of Adults in New York City Opioid Treatment Programs- An Aging Population,” used data collected by New York State’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS).

“Most notably,” says Benjamin Han, MD, MPH, an instructor at NYUSoM and the study’s principle investigator, “we found a pronounced age trend in those utilizing opioid treatment programs from 1996 to 2012, with adults aged 50 and older becoming the majority treatment population.”

Specifically, individuals aged 50-59 which made up 7.8% of the total patient population in 1996, accounted for 35.9% of the population in 2012. Patients aged 60-69 originally accounted for 1.5% of patients and jumped to 12.0% of patients.

“These increases…suggests that we are facing a never before seen epidemic of older adults with substance use disorders and increasing numbers of older adults in substance abuse treatment. Those age 40 and below, who in 1996 accounted for 56.2% of patients were a fraction of that in 2012, responsible for 20.5% of total patients.

Older adults over the age of 60 were increasingly white, with a 10.3% increase in representation, while there was a 13.8% decrease in the percentage of black patients. For those aged 50-59 there was a larger increase in Hispanic patients (9.2%).

Researchers believe the increase in older adults utilizing opioid treatment programs is likely to continue into the next decade.