Older Americans Experience The Largest Spike In Opioid Overdose Deaths

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 are experiencing the largest spike in opioid overdose deaths, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Coverage of the opioid crisis largely focuses on the toll addiction is having on Americans between the ages of 25 and 44, however, overdose deaths of older Americans are accelerating faster than any other age group. Emergency workers in Michigan are urging the public to focus their attention on this segment of the population, which is particularly at risk, reports FOX 2 Detroit.

Dan Phillips, an EMS captain in Royal Oak, Mich., says there is a false perception that the crisis is largely due to abuse of street drugs like heroin. He says older Americans often become hooked on painkillers after being initially prescribed opioids for an injury.

“A lot of older people start with a real injury: broken hip, a shoulder injury – they get a real drug for a real reason,” Phillips told FOX 2 Detroit. “When that drug goes away because that injury is over, they don’t get the help for not being on that drug and that’s where we see our problems.”

Royal Oak lost more residents to opioid overdoses in 2017 than in the past five years combined, according to local officials. Phillips notes that none of the overdoses involved teenagers and the oldest victim was 62.

The opioid overdose death rate for Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 increased six-fold between 1999 and 2016. Over the same period, deaths linked to prescription painkillers went from representing roughly 20 percent of all drug deaths to more than 50 percent.

Opioid overdose made up a staggering 66 percent of all drug overdose deaths in 2016, killing 42,249 people in 2016, surpassing the annual number of lives lost to breast cancer. Deaths from synthetic opioids like fentanyl, a painkiller roughly 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, experienced a particularly dramatic increase, more than doubling from 9,580 lives in 2015 to 19,413 lives last year.

Officials say the epidemic is contributing to declining life expectancy in the U.S. Life expectancy dropped for the second consecutive year in 2016 for the first time since an outbreak of influenza in 1962 and 1963.

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