You don’t often look to Buzzfeed for addiction news, but this week the pop culture site published a very telling piece about the impact of the nation’s opioid addiction crisis. Specifically, it broke down the stats into two distinct groups: Senior citizens and post-college 20-somethings. Data has recently shown that those most significantly affected by the crisis fall into those categories. Seniors are becoming addicted to the painkiller element, primarily because of prescriptions for surgeries and injuries. The younger set, on the other hand, is finding themselves sucked into the heroin trap and becoming the most high risk for an overdose.
Buzzfeed goes on to classify the opioid epidemic as two epidemics, and we happen to agree with them. According to their stats, 60% of all deadly overdoses in the U.S. over the last two years were caused by this crisis, accounting for a total of more than 33,000 Americans.
As mentioned above, the 20-somethings are the ones who are dying the most. They tend to start with pills (much like the older generation), but due to increased cravings, curiosity and easier accessibility, they quickly switch to shooting up. Another point worth noting is that people who take opioid pills can tend to build a tolerance to the drug. This requires larger and larger doses to maintain the “high.” Thus, the switch to the more potent heroin needle.
That isn’t to say that seniors in their 50’s and 60’s aren’t succumbing as well. Those age groups have also seen a large spike in opioid-related overdose deaths. And they are, according to the article, more likely to switch over to fentanyl vs. street heroin. These synthetic fentanyl pills appear to be the more acceptable drug of choice for the senior generation and, as the article pointed out, were responsible for 57-year-old Prince’s death last year.
Ultimately, the Buzzfeed piece correctly calls out the importance of categorizing the heroin and opioid painkiller issues together. These are not separate epidemics, particularly after research has shown that the majority of heroin users began their habits with pills.
As for the reason that older Americans are staying away from the needle? UC San Francisco professor Dr. Daniel Ciccarone made a pretty compelling point.
“I think there are social network effects that we can’t see very well,” he told the site. “People have to learn to inject heroin from people they know and trust. It might be that older people just don’t want to do that as much.”
Let’s hope these combined stats help raise more alarms with lawmakers, so we can get additional action items in place to combat this growing epidemic.