By AP Science Writer
updated 6/16/2010 8:18:49 AM ET 2010-06-16T12:18:49

America's drug abusers are going gray.

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The proportion of people admitted to treatment for drug abuse who are aged 50 or over nearly doubled between 1992 and 2008, a new government study says.

Alcohol is still the leading cause of admissions in this age group, but sharp increases were noted in those needing treatment for heroin, cocaine and marijuana, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports Wednesday.

"These findings show the changing scope of substance abuse problems in America," agency administrator Pamela S. Hyde said in a statement. "The graying of drug users in America is an issue for any programs and communities providing health or social services for seniors."

While some people 50 and over were taking up drugs for the first time — notably cocaine users — the study found that three-quarters of older Americans admitted for treatment had started using drugs before age 25.

According to the report, the share of people treated for substance abuse who were 50 and over:

  • More than doubled, from 7.2 percent to 16.0 percent, for heroin.
  • For cocaine abuse, nearly quadrupled from 2.9 percent to 11.4 percent. More than a quarter of these had begun use of the drug within the last five years.
  • Rose from 0.7 percent to 3.5 percent for prescription drug abuse.
  • For marijuana abuse increased from 0.6 percent to 2.9 percent

The agency said that during the same period admissions primarily related to alcohol abuse decreased from 84.6 percent in 1992 to 59.9 percent in 2008.

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