Aging doesn’t stop drug use

From Scientific American:

Writing in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, Gay­athri J. Dowling, Susan R. B. Weiss and Timothy P. Condon warn that many aging baby boomers, long accustomed to using illicit drugs for recreation and medicinals of all kinds for treating whatever ails them, will carry their love affair with drugs into old age. Medicine is only beginning to appreciate the consequences.

The baby boomers, the generation born between 1946 and 1964, make up 29 percent of the U.S. population today. By 2030 this “pig in the python” of the nation’s age-distribution profile will swell the number of people aged 65 and older to 71 million. The baby boomers, of course, became well known in the 1960s for their significantly higher use of illicit drugs than that of preceding generations. At one time, investigators were convinced that as people aged, they would “grow out of” the use of recreational drugs. There is little evidence that any such thing has taken place today.

Dowling and his colleagues cite hospital data that record the number of people aged 55 and older who sought emergency-room treatment and mentioned using various drugs. The number of cocaine mentions rose from 1,400 in 1995 to almost 5,000 in 2002, an increase of 240 percent. Similarly, mentions of heroin increased from 1,300 to 3,400 (160 percent), marijuana from 300 to 1,700 (467 percent) and amphetamine from 70 to 560 (700 percent).

Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health corroborate those trends. In 2002 some 2.7 percent of adults between 50 and 59 admitted to illicit drug use at least once in the preceding year. By 2005 that number had increased significantly, to 4.4 percent. The investigators attribute the rise to the aging baby boomers, as well as to enhanced longevity coupled with people’s tendency to retain their long-held patterns of drug use as they grow older. Those numbers will put substantial new strains on the medical system: by one estimate, the number of adults aged 50 and older treated for drug abuse will rise from 1.7 million in 2000 and 2001 to 4.4 million in 2020.

The article goes on to discuss differences in metabolism and dangers as one ages and continues to use drugs.