Prescription and Illicit Drug Abuse

Frequently Asked Questions

15. Is there a problem with illicit (illegal) drug use among older adults?

Although use of illicit (illegal) drugs is relatively uncommon among adults over age 65, there has recently been an increase in the percentage of people 50 and older abusing illicit drugs. In fact, the number of current illicit drug users aged 50-59 nearly tripled between 2002 and 2009 from 900,000 to more than 2.5 million. More older adults are also seeking treatment for substance abuse and having increased hospitalizations and visits to emergency rooms (up 60 percent in 55- to 64-year-olds from 2004 to 2009) because of illicit drug use.

These patterns and trends partially reflect the aging of the baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964). This could be for two reasons: (1) there were more people born in that generation and therefore there are now more people in that age group than before, and (2) baby boomers were more likely than previous generations to use illicit drugs in their youth, which is a risk factor for later use.