Older Adults Now Largest Age Group Receiving Opioid Treatment

The increase in older adults is “especially striking, considering there was about a 7.6% decrease in the total patient population over that period of time and suggests that we are facing a never before seen epidemic of older adults with substance use disorders and increasing numbers of older adults in substance abuse treatment,” said Dr Han in a press release. “Unfortunately there is a lack of knowledge about the burden of chronic diseases and geriatric conditions on the cognitive and physical function of this growing population.”

Notable shifts also occurred in race and ethnicity. Between 1996 and 2012, the number of white adults older than 60 years increased by 10.3%, the number of black adults older than 60 years decreased by 13.8%, and the number of Hispanic adults older than 60 years increased slightly from 35.0% to 38.8%. The trends were different for those aged 50 to 59: the number of white adult patients slightly decreased by 3.5%, the number of black adults slightly decreased by 5.9%, and there was a larger rise in the number of Hispanics by 9.2%. When looking at all of the age groups, the white population remained stable with a decrease of 0.4%, the black population decreased slightly by 3.5%, and the Hispanic population rose slightly  by 3.4%.

The researchers believe that the number of older adults using opioid treatment programs will likely rise into the next decade. They note that further research is needed to better understand the specific unique health needs of this growing population from a geriatric standpoint. They also note that more research is needed to understand how other substance use can complicate care and how changing ethnic and racial demographics in New York City should be addressed.


Han B, Polydorou S, Ferris R, et al. Demographic trends of adults in New York City opioid treatment programs—an aging population. Subst Use Misuse. 2015; doi:10.3109/10826084.2015.1027929.