News & Commentary

Boomers, Millennials Hit Hard by Opioids

Baby boomers and millennials are the hardest hit by the heroin and opioid epidemic, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health by researchers at Columbia University. Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, top the list, having 27% greater chance of dying from prescription opioids than people born in 1977 and 1979, which the researchers used as a baseline group for the purposes of this study. They also have 33% higher odds of dying from a heroin overdose than the baseline group.

Drug-taking guru Timothy Leary said “turn on, tune in, drop out,” in the mid-1960s, something not lost on the study’s authors.

Baby boomers may be more vulnerable to drug abuse because of their “increased use of illicit drugs in adolescence” and that “might explain their higher death rates from prescription opioid overdose and heroin overdose.”

Millennials, defined in this study as people born between 1979 and 1992, are 23% more likely to die from a heroin overdose than those born in the baseline years.

“Since 2010, the prescription opioid overdose rate for those in their late 40s to 60s increased faster than did those for other age groups,” the study states. (Baby boomers were in their 40s and 50s in the mid-1990s, when opioid prescription rates increased.) “By comparison, heroin overdose rates for those in their 20s and 30s increased faster than those of other age groups since 2010.”

Heroin is much more readily available, for one thing, and younger people have a desire for new experiences, the authors note.

The problem is most likely even worse than thought. Researchers cite other studies that say that 25% of U.S. overdose deaths have no drug information on death certificates.

Guohua Li, MD, of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and one of the study’s authors, said that the findings suggest that providers should take into account when a person was born when they develop pain management plans and measure the risk for addiction.


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