Thursday, April 27, 2017

Study: Older Americans more likely to die from prescription painkillers, younger from heroin

A divide exists in heroin and prescription painkiller deaths. Analysis of drug overdose and emergency room data from 2013-14 by University of Maryland professor Jay Unick, who has written several studies on health consequences of heroin use, found that people in their 50s and 60s are more likely to die of prescription drug overdoses, while people in their 20s and 30s are more likely to die from heroin overdoses. Unick presented his findings last week at the National Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta. (Vox graphics)
Unick "thinks the age divide is an unintended consequence of states moving to crack down on opioid prescriptions," Sarah Frostenson reports for Vox. Unick told her, “Older people have greater access to pills. But younger people are just starting with heroin and aren’t even making that shift from pills to heroin.” Opioids have become a particular problem in rural areas, especially Appalachia.
Heroin, for the first time in 2015, killed more people than prescription painkillers, Frostenson notes. But the difference in heroin and prescription painkillers is regional. Unick found that hot spots for heroin deaths were largely concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest, where emergency room admissions have steadily increased, compared to the South and West, where it has remained mostly stable. On the other hand, emergency room visits for prescription painkiller overdoses are highest in the South and West, although data shows numbers have been declining in all four regions since 2012.

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