A government survey estimates that the number of adults 50 or older with substance abuse problems will double to 5 million in 2020 from 2.5 million in 1999, in large part due to their comfort with prescription drugs, Reuters reports. “There is a huge concern that what we’re going to be seeing is a tidal wave of seriously affected substance abusers in later life,” said Frederic Blow of the University of Michigan Medical School, who specializes in geriatric substance abuse.
Rush Limbaugh, the 55-year-old talk show host who was charged last month with prescription drug fraud in connection with his addiction to painkillers, is representative of the new kind of patient showing up in treatment centers and emergency rooms. “Late onset” substance abuse is often linked to medical problems and the emotional traumas that can accompany old age, from isolation to the death of friends and family. Illicit drug use is also increasing, though the absolute numbers are still relatively small. “We are beginning to see an increase in heroin and cocaine addiction at the front-end of the baby boom wave,” said Carol Colleran of Hanley Center, a treatment program in West Palm Beach and the author of “Aging and Addiction.” She says that “the increase is slight yet, but it begs the question as to whether that figure is going to increase dramatically if the baby boomers revert back in retirement to the drugs they tended to use in their college years.”