Thursday, March 24, 2022

Rising Number of Older Americans Admitted for Treatment for Heroin Use

The number of adults over 55 admitted for substance use treatment for the first time nearly doubled between 2008 and 2018, according to a report in The Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

“The decade since 2008 has resulted in a marked escalation of heroin and methamphetamine use among older adults seeking treatment for the first time, driving illicit substances overall to be more common than alcohol as the reason older adults seek treatment,” wrote Andrea Weber, M.D., of the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine and colleagues.

Using the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Treatment Episode Data Sets (TEDS), which include information about patients admitted for substance use treatment, the researchers compared the rate of first-time admissions for publicly funded substance use treatment by 453,598 adults 55 years or older with those by more than 3 million adults aged 30 to 54 years.

TEDS include demographic data and substance use characteristics regarding patients admitted to substance use treatment facilities in the United States that receive any public funding. Treatment agency staff interview individuals, recording their primary, secondary, and tertiary problem substances. Individuals report the following demographic information: age, race, ethnicity, age at which substance was first used, frequency of substance use, and the source of referral for treatment.

Weber and colleagues found that the percentage of older adults admitted for substance use treatment increased every year between 2008 and 2018. In 2008, 9.04% of all admissions were for adults 55 years or older; in 2018, the percentage rose to 15.64%. The number of older adults’ admissions increased 190%, from 35,787 to 67,872 over the 10-year period.

Older adults’ admissions for illicit drug use also increased every year by 1.91 percentage points, while admissions for alcohol use decreased 1.61 percentage points, and alcohol and drug admissions remained relatively stable (-0.28 percentage point change per year). First-time admissions for older adults with heroin as the primary substance rose from 10% in 2008 to 22% in 2018. Methamphetamine use also increased 0.61 percentage points per year in the older group.

“[T]he increase in heroin use among older adults seeking first-time substance use treatment increases the need for geriatricians, geriatric psychiatrists, and other primary care providers to offer evidence-based medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) and other forms of risk mitigation, such as naloxone prescribing,” the researchers wrote. “In addition to ongoing access to MOUD throughout the age spectrum, this increasing use of heroin and methamphetamine among older adults seeking treatment increases the need to include older adults in studies evaluating the safety, tolerability, and effectiveness of any and all treatments for [substance use disorder].”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Methamphetamine Involved in Rising Number of Heroin Treatment Admissions.”

(Image: iStock/fzant)

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