Fatal Drug Overdoses Rise at Alarming Rate Among Older Americans

Worried 70 year old man

In a new report published in JAMA Psychiatry[i], researchers document an alarming 20-year trend in fatal overdose deaths among older Americans.

Deaths from overdoses among those 65 and older have quadrupled from 2002 to 2021.


Nearly three-quarters of those accidental deaths involved illicit drugs such as cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, and meth.

To draw their conclusions, the research team analyzed the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research (WONDER) database.

Other findings, as reported by Science News, include:

  • By 2021, 1 in 370 senior deaths stemmed from overdoses, with 3814 of those (57%) involving opioids, 2587 (39%) from stimulants, and 1204 (18%) a combination of both.
  • About 13% (882) of overdoses in 2021 were intentional, 83% (5,541) were unintentional, 4% (274) were undetermined, and 5 (0.07%) were homicides.
  • Females accounted for fifty-seven percent (57%) of intentional overdoses and twenty-nine percent (29%) of accidental overdoses.
  • Intentionality differed by race and ethnicity: 31 of 83, or 37%, of overdoses among Asians were intentional, compared to 805 of 4848 (17%) among whites and 15 of 1665 (1%) among Blacks.
  • Alcohol poisoning deaths rose from 10 (less than 0.03 per 100,000) to 281 (0.5 per 100,000).

The study authors conclude, “Current proposals to improve mental health and substance use disorder coverage within Medicare, for example, applying mental health parity rules within Medicare, acquire greater urgency in light of this study’s results.”

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