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Baby Boomers' Treatment Needs May Double

By January 12, 2010

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As the Baby Boomer generation continues to grow older, the percentage of older Americans who use illicit drugs is increasing dramatically. According to a new study, this could mean that substance abuse treatment services required for adults 50 and over may double by the year 2020.

Marijuana and the nonmedical use of prescription drugs are the two most common drugs of abuse among people 50 and over.

A study of 19,921 adults aged 50 or older who participated in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) revealed that the aging of the baby boomer generation is producing a dramatic increase in the percentage of older adults who do illicit drugs.

4.3 Million Older Drug Abusers

Some of the findings included:

  • 4.3 million adults aged 50 or older (4.7%) used an illicit drug in the past year.

  • 8.5% of men aged 50 to 54 had used marijuana in the past year (as opposed to 3.9% of women).

  • Marijuana use was more common than nonmedical use of prescription drugs among males 50 and older, (4.2% vs. 2.3%)

  • Among females the rates of marijuana use and nonmedical use of prescription drugs were similar (1.7% and 1.9%).

More Programs Needed

For Baby Boomers, marijuana use was much more common than the abuse of prescription drugs. However, for older adults - those over 65 years of age - nonmedical use of prescription drugs was more common.

"This new data has profound implications for the health and well-being of older adults who continue to abuse substances," said SAMHSA Administrator, Pamela S. Hyde, J.D., in a news release. "These findings highlight the need for prevention programs for all ages as well as to establish improved screening and appropriate referral to treatment as part of routine health care services."

The full report, "SAMHSA's National Survey on Drug Use and Health" is available online.

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