Seniors face big risks from drug overdoses and alcohol-induced deaths

Drug and alcohol abuse has impacted seniors in the United States as much as it has among younger Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the nation’s leading science-based, data-driven federal agency that protects the public’s health.

Over 5,000 people ages 65 and over in the U.S. died of a drug overdose in 2020, and more than twice that many (11,616) died of alcohol-induced causes.

The data are featured in two reports released recently by CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

The reports — “Drug Overdose Deaths Among Adults Aged 65 and Over: United States, 2000-2020” and “Alcohol-Induced Deaths Among Adults Aged 65 and Over: United States 2019-2020” — show similar increases in deaths among older Americans from drugs and alcohol as in younger age-groups.

Death rates from drug overdoses among people 65 and over have more than tripled over the past two decades (2.4 deaths per 100,000 people ages 65 and over in 2000 vs. 8.8 in 2020), with faster rates of increase for men than women in the recent period.

Alcohol-induced death rates in the 65-and-older population have been increasing since 2011 and rose more than 18% from 2019 to 2020.

Among both men and women, drug overdose death rates among 65 year-olds are higher among non-Hispanic Black people. The exception is among women ages 75 and over: non-Hispanic white women in this age group have the highest death rates.

Death rates from alcohol-induced causes among people ages 65 and over were highest among American Indian or Alaskan Native people. Alcohol-induced death rates for this group were over twice as high as for the next highest group (Hispanics). Rates increased 46.5% for AIAN people in only one year, from 2019 to 2020.

Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids have had a big impact on the older population as well. Death rates from these drugs increased 53% from 2019 to 2020 among people age 65 and over.

In 2020, alcohol-induced death rates were over three times higher among men ages 65-74 than among women, and four times higher among men ages 75 and over than among women of that age.

NCHS also released another report focusing on the 65-and-over population: “Unintentional Fall Deaths Among Adults Aged 65 and Over: United States, 2020.”

That report shows death rates from unintentional falls have increased between 2000 and 2020 for the older age group.

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