Older Adults Now Largest Age Group Receiving Opioid Treatment

In 1996, those aged 50 to 59 made up 7.8% of the total patient population of opioid users, and in 2012 they made up 35.9% of the patient population.

An increasing number of adults age 50 and older have been admitted to substance abuse treatment in recent years, according to research published in Substance Use & Misuse.

Most of the few previous studies on this topic have been based on a limited dataset—the treatment episode dataset (TEDS)—that only accounts for treatment admissions and therefore may not fully capture how people have been making use of substance abuse treatment over time. TEDS data examining aging trends are also limited by defining an older adult as one older than age 50 or 55 and may not fully demonstrate how the population is aging.

To cover these gaps in existing data and examine age trends for opioid treatment programs, researchers affiliated with New York University Center for Drug Use and HIV Research and NYU School of Medicine studied age trends for opioid treatment programs in New York City with data collected from the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), which provides more detailed information on the treatment population than the TEDS dataset. This allowed the researchers to characterize basic demographics, self-reported use of other substances, and self-reported physical impairments.

“Most notably, we found a pronounced age trend in those utilizing opioid treatment programs from 1996 to 2012, with adults aged 50 and older becoming the majority treatment population,” said Benjamin Han, MD, MPH, an instructor at the medical school and the principle investigator of the study in a press release.

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In 1996, those aged 50 to 59 made up 7.8% (n = 2892) of the total patient population, and in 2012 they accounted for 35.9% (n = 12 301) of the patient population. The population of those aged 60 to 69 years rose sharply as well: in 1996 they accounted for 1.5% of patients (n = 558), and in 2012 they accounted for 12.0% (n = 4099). In contrast, patients aged 40 and younger decreased: they accounted for 56.2% of patients ( n = 20 804) in 1996 and were only 20.5% of the population (n = 7035) in 2012.