Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Baby Boomer drug use

SAMSHA has issued a superficial report titled, "Illicit Drug use among Older Adults." The younger adults of the older than 50 set are more likely to report using marijuana, using prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them or for the purpose of getting high, or another illegal drug like heroin or cocaine or LSD.

Some observations:
(1) 2.1 percent of adults older than 50 (1.9 million adults) used a medication that was not prescribed to them OR to "only for the experience or feeling they caused," i.e., supposedly "to get high" in the past year. We need harm reduction education for senior citizens to help them prevent adverse drug interactions, since they use a wide variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications. But the report does not propose that.

(2) To truly understand the nature of drug use by older adults, we must refine the questions in these surveys and how we report it. We can no longer use the term "non-medical use" the way we have.

Using medications that were not prescribed for the respondent may be illegal, but it certainly does not mean drug abuse as we understand the term. It may mean that for many persons, their necessary drugs are too difficult to get via bureaucratic health insurance regimes or are too expensive. If you have any experience getting medication at a pharmacy which is being paid for by your health insurance, you find that frequently the prescription is not filled because it is not the right time of the month. Are you going away for the holidays and won't be back until after the first of the month? Too bad, you can't get your prescription filled until after you get back. And if your medications are not generic or are not covered by health insurance, you truly face "sticker shock!"

The report calls the use of these medications as use of "illicit drugs." The report combines this kind of drug use with use of prescription drugs for the purpose of getting high. Combining these two types of drug use does not help us clarify our understanding of this drug use in the society. Rather it contributes to misunderstanding this drug use, to inflammatory or joking headlines, and most likely to poor policy making.

(3) 2.5 million adults older than 50 use marijuana IN THE PAST YEAR. As we think about mature adults using marijuana, I wonder if SAMSHA (and NIDA and DEA) could ever get intellectually honest and stop calling all marijuana use "abuse"?

(4) This report fails to include any comparable data on tobacco and alcohol use. If the goal is to help properly guide health policy for senior citizens, leaving that out is absurd!

(5) 664,000 adults older then 50 reported using IN THE PAST YEAR heroin, cocaine or a hallucinogenic drug, 0.7 percent of all the older adults. That is a pretty small group.

How does the agency interpret this study? Here's their press release. "It has been predicted that by the year 2020, the number of persons "needing treatment for a substance use disorder will double..." WE NEED MORE DRUG TREATMENT SERVICES SPENDING.

If the agency goal is to justify more spending for the agency in a time of budget slashing, a superficial study that is packaged to promote misinterpretation is a bureaucratic necessity.

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Rita said...

Thanks for including the link to the news release on this story.

It's been all over the internet and is misleading because the terms baby boomer and senior are used interchangeably.

I'll blog about it on my blog The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide.

Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964.


Anonymous said...

Opulently I to but I about the brief should acquire more info then it has.