March 7 (UPI) -- Opioid abuse has fueled a national epidemic and driving older Americans to the hospital to treat their addictions, a new study says.
Between 2006 and 2014, emergency room visits tripled for people older than age 65 seeking treatment for opioid misuse and dependence, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Innovation in Aging. That represents a 217 percent increase during that time.
"The steep increase in opioid misuse observed among older adult ED visits underscores the critical need for additional research to better understand the national scope and impact of opioid misuse on older adults, as well as to better inform policy responses to meet the needs of this particular age group," the authors wrote.
Opioid misuse is also linked to older adults having an increased number of chronic conditions, higher injury risk and higher alcohol dependence.
The study included data from more than 950 hospitals across 34 states and the District of Columbia.
In the last two decades, opioid deaths have quadrupled in eight states, according to a recent study.
The increase in opioid misuse in older adults matches a similar trend emerging on the lower end of the age spectrum where adults younger than age 35 account for more than 50 percent of emergency room visits for nonprescription drug use. More than 40 percent of those younger patients are arriving already unconscious or after they've suffered cardiorespiratory failure.
Experts believe much of the epidemic stems from the overprescribing of opioids by physicians, according to one study.
By 2025, illicit opioid deaths are expected to spike by 147 percent.
"Findings demonstrate the breadth and scope of opioid misuse and dependence among older adults visiting emergency departments -- and indicate that targeted programs aimed at screening, intervention, and treatment specifically geared toward older adults are warranted," the authors wrote. "Results from this study also highlight the complexity of treating opioid dependence in this population, which reflect in part, high rates of coexisting mental health and other substance abuse disorders."