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Elderly drug abuse will rise as boomers age


NEW YORK (Reuters Health) -- As growing numbers of baby boomers enter their senior years, alcohol and drug problems -- especially abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs -- among the elderly will rise, California researchers predict.

Between 1946 through 1964, there were approximately 76.5 million babies born. And record numbers of these baby boomers will turn 65 in 2011, making the baby boom generation the largest group of senior citizens America has ever seen.



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The "baby boomer" generation has historically used more drugs than other generations because many of them came of age in the 1960s when drug use was more prevalent. But "we may also see greater numbers of individuals who develop late-onset drug or alcohol problems," write Thomas L. Patterson of the University of California at San Diego and Dr. Dilip V. Jeste of the Veteran Affairs San Diego Healthcare System. Their report is published in the September issue of Psychiatric Services, a journal of the American Psychiatric Society.

For example, people with arthritis may grow increasingly dependent on pain medications, while those with sleep problems may be more likely to abuse sleeping pills such as benzodiazepines, they write.

Stress, isolation, various losses, loneliness and illness also increase risk of substance abuse among senior citizens, they write. And studies have shown that elderly people use prescription drugs three times more frequently than people in the general population. The use of over-the-counter medications among this population is even more extensive, the investigators point out.

"This suggests that in sheer numbers, we can expect to see more people over age 65 with abuse problems in the coming decades, with the resulting impact on treatment programs and other resources, which are not geared to address the special needs of this age group," Patterson explains in a statement.

But, the researchers add, "there is still time to develop a treatment infrastructure that is sensitive to the problems of older drug users."

They suggest that in addition to greater research on the substance abuse patterns of older Americans, larger print on prescription drug labels may discourage misuse of medication.

"While there is a plethora of studies estimating the incidence and prevalence of drug abuse in the younger populations, there have been far fewer studies which focus on the elderly," Patterson and Jeste note.

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