Boomers' Overdose Deaths Up Markedly - Los Angeles Times Oct. 10, 2005
The change has caught many prevention programs, which tend to be geared toward
young people, off guard. Several drug abuse prevention officials and other
experts said there was virtually no strategy in place to address the risk of
overdose among older users.
"We have seen a massive, long-term trend
toward more middle-age drug abuse that is leading to an unprecedented number of
deaths," said Michael Males, a sociology researcher at UC Santa Cruz. But "no
one is doing anything about it. It has gotten almost no attention at the state,
federal or local level."
Because the problem has been recognized only
recently, it is difficult to say what is behind the generational split.
Some experts suggest, however, that California is merely reflecting a
national trend in which Americans increasingly are using illicit drugs long past
the days of youthful resilience. According to the U.S. Substance and Mental
Health Services Administration, more than a third of drug users today are older
than 35, compared with 12% in 1979.
"Baby boomers are the first
generation that is facing a drug and overdose epidemic in their middle age,"
said John Newmeyer, epidemiologist and drug researcher at the Haight-Ashbury
Free Clinics in San Francisco. "They started using drugs recreationally or
regularly over 20 years ago, and they aren't really slowing down."
degree, it seems overdoses are following the same generation through time. In
California, the age at which someone was most likely to die from a drug overdose
in 1970 was 22; by 1985, it was 32; and today it is 43, according to
calculations by Males, based on state health data.
Many of those who die
are hard-core drug users who never quit, even when they reached middle age.
Californians age 40 and older are dying of drug overdoses at double the
rate recorded in 1990, a little-noticed trend that upends the notion of
hard-core drug use as primarily a young person's peril.
overdoses among baby boomers are driving an overall increase in drug deaths so
dramatic that soon they may surpass automobile accidents as the state's leading
cause of nonnatural deaths...
Kathy Jett, director of the state's
Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, said the agency wasn't aware until
recently that drug overdoses were rising so quickly — let alone so dramatically
among older users. She asked an internal task force assessing the department's
overall drug abuse prevention strategy to come up with new approaches.
But Jett said budget constraints may limit what the agency can do.
Researching and reacting to trends like rising overdose death rates is
"not something that we're typically equipped to do," she said. "We have very
Males, of UC Santa Cruz, said overdose trends call
for a major realignment of the state's drug policy.
"We're going to have
to adapt our treatment and prevention model to older users," he said. "We must stop obsessing solely on younger people doing
drugs and focus resources on aging addicts."