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Overdose Deaths on the Rise in Older Adults

One in 370 deaths among older adults was caused by an overdose in 2021

By Lori Solomon HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, March 30, 2023 (HealthDay News) — While still uncommon, fatal overdose rates among older adults quadrupled from 2002 to 2021, according to a research letter published online March 29 in JAMA Psychiatry.

Keith Humphreys, Ph.D., from the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System in California, and Chelsea L. Shover, Ph.D., from the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California in Los Angeles, used the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research database to calculate the annual overdose death rate from 2002 to 2021 for all U.S. adults aged 65 years and older and the contribution of overdose to all-cause mortality.

The researchers found that the rate of fatal drug overdoses among people aged 65 years and older quadrupled from 3.0 per 100,000 population (1,060 deaths) in 2002 to 12.0 per 100,000 (6,702 deaths) in 2021, with the highest rates seen among non-Hispanic African American individuals (30.9 per 100,000). During the same time period, mortality from alcohol poisoning rose from 10 deaths in 2002 to 279 in 2021. The proportion of all-cause mortality attributable to drug overdose increased 359 percent (from 0.06 to 0.27 percent). One in 370 deaths among older adults was caused by an overdose in 2021.

“Current proposals to improve mental health and substance use disorder coverage within Medicare, for example, applying mental health parity rules within Medicare, acquire greater urgency in light of this study’s results,” the authors write.

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