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More Middle-Age Americans Dying from Drug Overdose

JoinTogether.org, April 20, 2006

Even as federal officials tout progress in cutting teen drug use, more middle-aged Americans are dying of drug overdoses, experts say.

The Psychiatric Times reported in its April 2006 issue that the typical addict is likely to be in their mid-30s to mid-50s, but that prevention programs often overlook Baby Boomers.

"There is a generational bias going on," said sociologist Mike Males, Ph.D., of the University of California at Santa Cruz. "Of 3,700 drug deaths in California during 2003, only 51 were [in people] under the age of 20."

The Drug Addiction Help Line reported that the typical overdose victim in 2005 was age 43, compared to 32 in 1985 and 22 in 1970. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) reported that more than half of overdose deaths in 2003 were among 35-to-54-year-olds.

The trend toward older addicts dying holds true in Washington, D.C., said Erin Artigiani, deputy director for policy at the Center for Substance Abuse at the University of Maryland in College Park. "We don't usually see many people under 21," she said. "Mostly, it's the older users -- those with the longest history of drug use, and who are using harder drugs."

Older drug users also predominate in emergency-room visits, according to DAWN data. "I'm surprised the numbers have escaped attention this long," said Males. "How did it get to the level it did with no notice? It's really a remarkable information breakdown. These numbers are not generally picked up in the popular press. People usually look for the heart-wrenching stories, the young person who lost his or her chance at life. Emergency-room doctors and counselors are well aware of the older sector of drug users."

Dr. Males said potent prescription painkillers like the widely abused OxyContin may be contributing to overdose deaths among older Americans. Cocaine and methamphetamines also are factors, although many overdose victims had used more than one substance.

Middle-aged Americans also have been involved in more crimes nationally, a trend that may have its roots in drug addiction.