About 8 percent of Americans ages 50 to 59 used an illicit drug in the past year, says the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Marijuana was the most commonly used, but close behind was abuse of prescription drugs, such as anti-anxiety medications, painkillers, and sleeping pills, the Boston Globe reports. Researchers who conducted the survey worry that high rates of lifetime drug use among baby boomers is likely to create health complications for millions of aging Americans and swamp the country's drug-treatment programs.
“We are projecting that by the year 2020, we will probably have enough people in the 50-to-59 age group needing [substance abuse] treatment that we will probably need to double the number of treatment facilities,'' said Peter Delany, the substance abuse agency's director of the Office of Applied Studies. Illicit drugs may cause greater impairment as users get older. “Physiology slows down as you age, so the stuff processed out of your body faster when you were younger won't be processed out so quickly when you are older,” Delany said.