(NaturalNews) Nearly one in 20 U.S. residents above the age of 50 regularly abuses illegal or prescription drugs, according to a report issued by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
"This new data has profound implications for the health and well being of older adults who continue to abuse substances," agency head Pamela Hyde said. "These findings highlight the need for prevention programs for all ages as well as to establish improved screening and appropriate referral to treatment as part of routine health care services."
Researchers warn that the number of Baby Boomers seeking drug abuse treatment is expected to double in the next 10 years.
According to the survey, 4.7 percent of adults over the age of 50 -- 4.3 million people -- have used an illicit drug in the past year. Forty-five percent of these reported using marijuana, 33 percent reported non-medical use of a prescription drug, and the remaining 22 percent reported using an illegal drug other than marijuana.
Men were more likely to use marijuana, with 4.2 percent of respondents reporting use of the drug in the past year and only 2.3 percent reporting prescription drug abuse. In contrast, 1.9 percent of women reported prescription drug abuse and 1.7 percent reported marijuana use.
Use of marijuana appeared to be more common among younger Baby Boomers, with adults aged 50 to 59 preferring that drug while adults 65 and older were more likely to abuse prescription drugs. In contrast with the overall 4.7 percent drug use statistic, a full 8.5 percent of men between the ages of 50 and 54 reported using marijuana in the past year. This suggests that many now-seniors who came of age during the drug culture of the '60s and '70s simply never stopped using drugs as they got older.
"It could be an adult who used to smoke a joint every night before bed and now they take a sleeping pill," said Gary Kennedy, director of Geriatric Psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center.
Kennedy noted that while not included in the federal study, alcohol is "still the king of abused substances."