WHEN THINKING ABOUT prescription drug addiction, one might understandably and automatically picture a young adult. Those 18 to 25 years of age “are the biggest abusers of prescription … opioid pain relievers, ADHD stimulants and anti-anxiety drugs,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. However, research shows that there’s been a surge over the past decade in opioid misuse – which includes heroin as well as the powerful prescription pain narcotics like fentanyl fueling an overdose epidemic – in older adults.
In fact, between 2002 and 2014, opioid abuse nearly doubled in those 50 and older (from about 1 to 2 percent), while declining in younger age groups. And a report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality released in September found that, among people 65 and older, opioid-related emergency room visits were up 74 percent from 2010 to 2015 and opioid-related inpatient stays were up 34 percent. (That compares to a 17 percent decrease in non-opioid related hospital stays and ER visits.) In 2015, there were 124,300 opioid-related hospital admissions of patients 65 and up in the U.S. “So it’s a big problem,” says Dr. Arlene Bierman, director of AHRQ’s Center for Evidence and Practice Improvement, who was involved in the research and is the corresponding author on the report.