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