Baby Boomers on Prescription Medication Contributing to Heroin 'Epidemic'

By Victoria Kim 04/24/15

The number of heroin-related deaths among Baby Boomers has nearly quintupled.

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Older Americans are a growing faction in the heroin-addicted population in the U.S., with the number of deaths involving heroin for those ages 45 to 64 nearly quintupling from 516 in 2000 to 2,459 in 2013, the Times Union reports.

There are several theories behind the “emerging epidemic” of seniors abusing drugs, prescription drugs in particular. Seniors are a segment of the population that is prescribed more drugs than any other, especially opioid pain relievers and benzodiazepines, and anxiety medications like Xanax and Valium. And the medical community’s medicate-first approach only exacerbates the matter, doling out pills for everything from joint pain to depression.

“What initially becomes a way of managing that pain can, over time, lead them to needing more of the painkiller,” Nicole MacFarland, executive director of Senior Hope, a nonprofit outpatient clinic in Albany for people 50 years and older, told the Times Union. “Their body develops a tolerance and, lo and behold, they wind up becoming very addicted.”

Weaning older adults from an opiate addiction can be complicated, MacFarland explained, since they need pain medication for other ailments.

Some older adults are turning to heroin when painkillers aren’t enough. The number of patients at Senior Hope whose main addiction was heroin increased from six patients in 2012 to 17 in 2014, out of 155 patients.

But patients like 56-year-old Dan Pirrone, who was using more than 20 bags of heroin a day, are "headed in the right direction," thanks to Senior Hope's network of support of people in his age group.

"If I were to get [help] when I was younger, I'd be much better off," Pirrone said. "I'd have my kids in my life, I would have a chance."

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr