Opioid overdose deaths increased drastically among older Black men over a decade

January 12, 2022

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Disclosure: Mason does not report any relevant financial information. Please refer to the study for all relevant financial information from the other authors.

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According to the in JAMA network open.

“Many of us think that substance abuse is a problem in the youth. Older adults, however, are experiencing an explosion of fatal opioid overdoses. ” Maryann Mason, PhD, said an associate professor at the Buhler Center for Health Policy and Economics at Northwestern University in a press release.

Mason M, et al. JAMA Netw Open. 2022; doi: 10.1001 / jamanetworkopen.2021.42982.

In a longitudinal study, Mason and colleagues examined data on deaths from opioid overdose in adults aged 55 years and older from the CDC database for multiple causes of death. Data on deaths between January 1, 1999 and December 31, 2019 were stratified by gender, race, and ethnicity.

A total of 79,893 adults in the United States died from an opioid overdose during the study period; 79.97% of these deaths were adults aged 55 to 64 years and 58.98% were men. Mason and colleagues reported that the number of opioid overdoses in older adults was 518 in 1999 and increased to 10,292 in 2019, an increase of 1.886%, according to the press release. The annual rate of opioid overdose deaths per 100,000 people aged 55 years or older increased over time, ranging from 0.9 in 1999 to 10.7 in 2019.

Maryann Mason

In 2013, opioid overdose rates began to diverge in non-Hispanic black men, according to the researchers. As of 2019, the death rate among elderly non-Hispanic black men from opioid overdose was 40.03 per 100,000 people. This rate was four times higher than the overall death rate from opioid overdose in older adults. The lowest rate of overdose deaths was among non-Hispanic Black men, 2.24 deaths per 100,000 people, according to Mason and colleagues. Conversely, Hispanic women and non-Hispanic Asian or Pacific islanders ages 55 and older had the lowest rates of overdose deaths; the rates never exceeded 3 deaths per 100,000 people.

“As [opioid overdose] Rates rose exponentially in black men in 2013, with fentanyl becoming more common in drug supplies, ”Mason told Healio. “This suggests to me that black men may have been more involved in illicit opioid use than other subgroups of older adults.”

High drug use rates among black men may also be related to social determinants of health such as poverty, poor housing conditions, lack of access to health care and drug use treatment, and experiences of trauma in high-violence and resource-poor communities, she added.

Ending the opioid epidemic requires short-term harm reduction and long-term improvement in social determinants of health, Mason said.


Mason M, et al. JAMA network Open minded. 2022; doi: 10.1001 / jamanetworkopen.2021.42982.

Opioid overdose death rates in older adults are increasing. https://news.northwestern.edu/stories/2022/01/older-adult-opioid-overdose-death-rates-on-the-rise/&fj=1. Published January 11, 2022. Accessed January 11, 2022.

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