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Older LGB adults have higher rates for drug use: study

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Older LGB adults have higher rates for drug use: study

A recent study has reported that middle-aged and older LGB adults have higher rates of drug use as compared to their heterosexual counterparts.

The study was conducted by researchers at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and the Center for Drug Use and HIV/HCV Research (CDUHR) at the NYU School of Global Public Health.

The study, which was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, noted that this drug use can be attributed to minority stressors like discrimination, oppression, and stigma.

A lifetime of stress for older LGB adults

Not surprisingly, the study’s findings is consistent with previous studies that show LGBTQ adolescents and young adults are also more likely to use drugs non-medically as compared to their straight counterparts.

“Our research confirms that a higher prevalence of substance use among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults can continue into later life,” said Benjamin Han, the study’s lead author.

Han, an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Geriatric Medicine and Palliative Care, added that “such prevalence may be related to stressors like discrimination and stigma based on sexual orientation in addition to stressors related to aging, including social isolation and age-related stigma.”

The researchers based their findings on data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which is an annual survey of a representative sample of individuals in the US.

Based on surveys from 2015 to 2017, researchers focused on data from adults ages 50 and older, and whether they identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) or straight.

The researchers looked at this group’s past-year use of cannabis, alcohol, cocaine, and methamphetamine, as well as non-medical use of prescription opioids, sedatives, stimulants, and tranquilizers.

Older LGB adults versus heterosexual adults

They compared those who identified as LGB against those who identified as heterosexual. Their sample included 25,880 participants. Of that number, 2.5 percent identified as LGB.

Their findings? Older LGB adults were more than twice as likely to use cannabis non-medically or 13.9 percent, as against older straight adults with 5.5 percent.

For non-medical use of prescription tranquilizers, older LGB adults were twice as likely to use or 3.6 percent, as compared to their older heterosexual counterparts with 1.1 percent.

Lastly, older LGB were more likely to use prescription opioids non-medically or 4.7 percent, versus older straight adults with 2.3 percent.

However, Joseph Palamar, the study’s senior author, pointed out that: “These findings should inform prevention and harm reduction efforts in this community and should not be used to stigmatize such individuals.”

Palamar, an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Health, added: “We hope that this new research, published during Pride Month, will remind people about the stressors many people still face in 2020 based on their sexual orientation.”

Substance abuse complicates healthcare

The researchers admitted that further research is needed to to look at the likely complex causes of the disparities, especially with stigma, discrimination and prejudice thrown in.

They also said that despite their findings, drug use among older adults in general– regardless of sexual orientation– is hardly “rampant.”

Palamar said: “Even though times are changing and things have been getting better for the LGBTQ community, older individuals in this population may still be affected from past experiences of intolerance.”

Substance use adds complications or or complexity in healthcare for older adults, who are undergoing physical changes and may have chronic diseases.

Older adults may also be taking more prescription medication as they age, which can have an effect with the above substances.

Han said, “These age-related changes place older adults at increased vulnerability to the harms of substance use.”

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