NEW YORK, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- There has been a significant increase in the number of people in their 50s being admitted to substance abuse programs during the last 15 years, however a lack of research into the reasons for the spike has researchers somewhat baffled at why it is happening.
Researchers at New York University conducted a recent study showing the trend of people over 50 increasingly seeking help for opioid addiction in New York City, which has one of the largest methadone treatment systems in the United States.
The increase of people in this age group participating in substance abuse treatment programs is particularly alarming because of an overall 7.6 percent decrease in the total number of patients during the time of the study.
"We are facing a never before seen epidemic of older adults with substance use disorders and increasing numbers of older adults in substance abuse treatment," said Dr. Benjamin Han, a professor at the NYU School of Medicine, in a press release. "Unfortunately there is a lack of knowledge about the burden of chronic diseases and geriatric conditions or the cognitive and physical function of this growing population."
Researchers used data from New York State's Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, collected from 1996 to 2012. During this period, the number of people seeking treating in New York's public substance abuse program dropped from 37,038 in 1996 to 34,270 in 2012, after reaching a peak of 40,328 in 2003.
The number of patients between the ages of 50 and 59 increased from 7.8 percent, or 2,892, to 12,301, or 35.9 percent of the total patients, from 1996 to 2012. An increase was also seen among people ages 60 to 69, going from 558 in 1996, or 1.5 percent of total patients, to 4,099 in 2012, 12 percent of patients. Patients over 70 also increased from 65 to 370, a shift from 0.2 percent to 1.1 percent of patients in the program.
During the same period, the number of people younger than 40 dropped by more than half -- from 20,804, or 56.2 percent of total patients, to 7,035, or just 20.5 percent.
Shifts in race and ethnicity of people using programs also shifted, as older adults over age 60 who are white increased by 10.3 percent while the number of black patients dropped by 13.8 percent. In the 50- to 59-year-old age group, there also were small decreases in white and black patients, however researchers saw a nearly 10 percent increase in Hispanic patients.
Although researchers said they expect the number of older adults in opioid treatment would continue to increase, further studies are required to determine why this is happening and how to address the issue.
The study is published in the Journal of Substance Use and Misuse.