The War on Confidential Informants

Anthony Papa knows the burn of betrayal.

Today he’s an accomplished man—a published author and staff member at the Drug Policy Alliance—but in the mid-’80s, his life wasn’t in such a bright place.

In 1985, Papa was living in the Bronx with his wife and daughter. He was self-employed, installing car alarms. He was an avid bowler, but also an avid gambler. He went to bowling alleys and bet on other bowlers, and sometimes he was up, but at the start of 1985, he was down. Money was tight and his wife gave him an ultimatum; make rent or get out. One of his bowling buddies in Westchester stepped in, seemingly to save the day.

“He asked me if I wanted to make a fast buck. All I had to do was deliver an envelope to Mount Vernon.”

After some nerves and reconsiderations, Papa eventually went through and delivered the goods to a mysterious man in a tow truck.

“I walked into a bust,” he said. The bowling buddy who’d “helped” him was already in legal hot water himself, “so the more people he got involved, the less time he got,” Papa recalled.

“He was setting up all his friends, people who weren’t even doing drugs.” Papa had dabbled in drugs, but he was by no means a drug dealer—just a desperate man who was out of options.

After his arrest, Papa was offered the chance to do what his bowling buddy did and become a confidential informant in exchange for a reduced sentence.

“I wouldn’t do it,” he said. “I knew at that point that I would just get deeper in the hole.” Instead, he took his case to trial and ended up with two sentences of 15 to life under New York’s notorious Rockefeller drug laws. He served 12 years before he was granted clemency by Gov. George Pataki.

Although today he’s doing well, the events that led to Papa’s arrest are not uncommon. Every day, confidential police informants are used to make drug busts. Sometimes they’re snagging bigger dealers, but sometimes—as in Papa’s case—they’re setting up bit players for big arrests.

The latter scenario is something that 60 Minutes focused on in a December 2015 segment with Lesley Stahl. The in-depth investigation looked at some of the tragic outcomes when the use of confidential informants doesn’t go as planned.

The show highlighted the cases of Andrew Sadek and Rachel Hoffman, both college students who were arrested with small amounts of drugs and pressured to work as confidential informants. Both ended up dead. Sadek was missing for months before he was found near a river, shot in the head. His backpack was weighted down with rocks. Hoffman was shot five times and dumped in a ditch. Both were college students with bright futures.

Although 60 Minutes used examples like those to outline the problematic nature of using confidential informants, the show didn’t include stories like Papa’s. To be more specific, the youth profiled in the show were all white.

Getting data about the demographics of confidential informants is difficult, to say the least. In fact, it’s hard to even get a good handle on how many confidential informants are used every year.

“By their nature, you’re not supposed to know who they are, so it’s very hard to say how much they’re actually used,” said Asha Bandele of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Nsombi Lambright, previous executive director of the ACLU of Mississippi and current executive director of One Voice, said that anecdotal evidence suggests that a lot of confidential informants are minorities.

“Overwhelmingly we’ve seen that the use of confidential informants is in poor and African American communities. That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen in other communities, but that is where we’ve seen the overwhelming use just because of the simplicity of entering into certain communities,” she said.

Typically, more privileged communities are more likely to have access to legal resources that prevent them from seriously considering offers to work as a confidential informant.

“I think that reason would have us extrapolate that people who are used as confidential informants are the most vulnerable—if you have a good lawyer, you’re probably not going to be a confidential informant,” said Bandele. “It’s very hard to quantify that or try to, but it’s not an unfair leap to think that somebody with wherewithal doesn’t need to be put in a position where they need to put their life at risk—and that’s about race and class.”

By way of example, Bandele pointed to the story of Shelley “Treasure” Hilliard. Hilliard, a black trans teen, was collared by Detroit police for half an ounce of marijuana. As a trans woman, the prospect of doing time and being housed in a men’s facility was understandably terrifying. So Hilliard agreed to become a confidential informant, hoping—like Hoffman and Sadek—to avoid time behind bars. But things went wrong when police leaked her name, and soon the teen went missing.

In November 2011, her burned torso was identified by investigators. “She was burned and hacked up and spread across the city,” Bandele lamented.

“She was trans, she was poor, she was black—it was a perfect storm of stigma and prejudice. It was a conflation of all these things that put her in a vulnerable position.”

The thing is, even if everything had worked out well, even if police hadn’t leaked her name, there’s still cause for concern on at least a few levels. For one, not everyone who works as a confidential informant actually manages to avoid prison time.

Papa said that the man who set him up ended up serving three years. Predictably, if someone is known as a confidential informant, prison becomes a lot more difficult.

“Once you get that label as a snitch, you’re dead,” he said. “You go to prison and they find out, you’re finished. You have to check into protective custody or always look over your shoulder. There’s nowhere to run in prison.” Protective custody typically means 22 to 23 hours a day in solitary confinement, so it may be safer than general population, but it’s mental torture.

Sometimes, confidential informants end up doing time because they don’t come up with enough information or don’t participate in enough busts. Other times, Lambright said, they get arrested on completely separate charges or the prosecuting attorney doesn’t honor the agreement. Even in a best-case scenario, where no names are leaked and no one is injured, confidential informants don’t necessarily get off scot-free.

A second problem with confidential informants is reliability.

“If somebody is facing time themselves, then of course they’ll do anything to get a reduction in time,” said Lambright. That was a problem the New Jersey ACLU outlined in a 2011 report examining the use of confidential informants in the Garden State.

“Police survey responses and community interviews indicate that police sometimes take CIs at their word without first carefully and independently corroborating the veracity of their statements before attempting to make an arrest,” the report notes. “Incentives offered to CIs, including leniency in their own criminal cases, increase the risk that CIs will provide unreliable information. The prevalent and repeated use of drug-addicted civilians as CIs increases the risk that the information they provide may be unreliable.”

According to the ACLU, unreliable testimony from informants is “one of the largest sources of wrongful convictions in the country.”

Part of the reason this happens is simply a lack of oversight. As the 60 Minutes segment pointed out, there’s typically no real training for the informants who are essentially being sent out to do police work.

As the New Jersey ACLU outlined, informants in the Garden State are often not properly registered and agreements are not set out in writing as they should be, as per a mandate from the state’s Attorney General. In fact, the report found that 44.6% of law enforcement personnel surveyed did not even know the Attorney General had a policy regarding the use of confidential informants.

When the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report on confidential informants in September 2015, they found a similar lack of oversight and a lack of sufficient policies for the federal agencies examined.

Although the use of confidential informants presents clear problems, Lambright said that there aren’t a lot of groups specifically focusing on activism around the issue of confidential informants, even though some advocacy organizations make it part of a drug reform platform.

One organization that has been very clear about its stance on confidential informants is the ACLU. On its website, the organization outlines some changes that could make the use of informants less problematic. Those changes include everything from requiring corroboration to improve informant reliability, broadening data collection to better evaluate the efficacy of using informants, and limiting the use of informants to serious crimes instead of non-violent drug offenses.

For Papa, that’s still not enough.

“It should be banned,” he said. “People should not be threatened or deals made based on putting other people in dangerous situations.”

“To police, it’s acceptable when really it’s not.”

This story originally appeared on The Fix.


Ann Coulter Believes Building A Border Wall Will Solve America’s Heroin Epidemic

Ann Coulter took aim at heroin addiction in her latest piece for Breitbart – unfortunately she took aim in the wrong direction.

Her Feb. 3 essay begins reasonably enough, with statistics. In 2014, she says, 47,055 people died from drug overdoses – more than died in car accidents.

“This is a huge, horrible problem — and it’s a problem caused entirely by the fact that Mexico is on our southern border,” she writes.

“The diverse, hardworking people of Mexico manufacture the majority of heroin in the U.S. and import ‘nearly all’ of it, according to a 2014 Washington Post report.”

While she is correct in noting that there were 47,055 overdose deaths in 2014, she then goes on to talk about heroin in particular, leaving the reader to draw a connection between the two. In fact, as the Washington Post reported at the time, 28,647 of those deaths were from opioids, including 10,574 from heroin in particular. Those are still staggering numbers—heroin overdoses tripled from 2010 to 2014—but it is worth noting that less than a quarter of that 47,055 figure is attributable to the heroin use she lays at Mexico’s feet.

Coulter goes on to say that the “media and political class” have pointedly looked for a way to blame Americans—“preferably white males”—for the drug epidemic. She writes, sarcastically, “Mexicans aren’t at fault for dumping these poisons on our country because … it’s the 14-year-old American kid’s fault for getting addicted!” (On the upside, at least it seems she’s willing to stop blaming addicts.)

“Pandering politicians give fiery speeches about drug addiction being a ‘disease,’” she writes. “However that may be, drug addiction is the only disease that you absolutely can’t catch if you never take drugs.” (Okay, so that does sound a little blame-y.)

To make it easier for kids to “never take drugs” in the first place, Coulter says the best solution is to support Trump’s plan to build a wall.

“Only Donald Trump has made the inarguable point that the most effective way to avoid catching this particular disease is never to start taking drugs,” she writes.

“Only Trump would make it a lot harder to start by building a wall and sending Mexican drug dealers and anchor babies home. Only Trump doesn’t blame America first.”

This story originally appeared on The Fix.

Why Is Heroin Killing So Many White People?

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that heroin overdose deaths tripled between 2010 and 2013, and according to aNew York Times analysis of the CDC numbers, that means that the death rate for white adults aged 25 to 34 has actually increased. The thing is, no one has figured out why yet, according to VICE News.

“The rising death rates for those young white adults, ages 25 to 34, make them the first generation since the Vietnam War years of the mid-1960s to experience higher death rates in early adulthood than the generation that preceded it,” the Times reported.

The New York paper’s analysis of more than 60 million death certificates from 1990 to 2014 found “death rates for non-Hispanic whites either rising or flattening for all the adult age groups under 65—a trend that was particularly pronounced in women—even as medical advances sharply reduce deaths from traditional killers like heart disease.”

The driving factor for those deaths seems to be drugs. From 1999 to 2014, the overdose death rate for white adults aged 25 to 34 increased five-fold. For those in the 35 to 44 range, it tripled.

On the other hand, for most black and Hispanic age groups, the death rates are falling.

So why the disparity? One expert, Dr. Andrew Kolodny, told VICE that opiate prescribing patterns might have a lot to do with it. He posited that a lot of the overdose deaths are driven by the increase in prescription painkiller use.

So why does that make it a white issue? Kolodny points to a 2015 study that concluded that white patients were given prescription opioids more frequently than minorities. (However, that study involved Medicare data and thus didn’t include the most affected demographic.)

Author Sam Quinones, who penned Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s OpioidEpidemic, said he doesn’t think racism in the medical profession explains everything.

“There’s an awful lot of doctors out there,” he said. “I can’t imagine that every single one has that feeling.”

Marcus Anthony Hunter, an assistant professor of Sociology and African American Studies at UCLA, offered another possibility. He told VICE that the urban communities hit so hard by drug epidemics of decades past might have a greater aversion to drug use now. Also, the heavier policing in urban areas means that it’s easier for suburban whites to get away with drug uses and sales.

Whatever the cause, the effect is a different prevailing view toward the best way to address addiction.

“Now that the problems of drugs have noticeably reached the vanilla suburbs, questions and claims of morality have been contested in ways often unavailable to urban minority communities,” Hunter said.

“Where urban minority areas are thought to be amoral breeding grounds, suburban white areas are thought to be upstanding, respectable force fields from the ills of drug use. As it turns out, neither is exactly true,” he added.

This article originally appeared on The Fix.

Overdoses Have Nearly Doubled In Illinois’ Madison County

Illinois’ Madison County had 77 drug-related deaths in 2015 alone, according to the BellevilleNewsDemocrat. At least 38 of those were heroin overdoses, nearly double the number for 2014.

Now, one local man—Dave Admire—is trying to help families who, like his own, are affected by the heroin epidemic.

Admire’s son, Brad, sustained a sports injury when he was 17 and, after shoulder surgery, was prescribed opioid painkillers.

“He was taking those and the prescription ran out, but by then he was addicted,” Admire said.

Eventually, he switched to heroin. Though he came clean to his dad a few months afterward, four years later he’s still struggling. Now 21, he’s gone through a handful of treatment programs, been locked up and overdosed at least three times. After each stint of clean time, he’d relapse within a few days of leaving treatment.

“It’s like that with a lot of them; it’s got such a hold on them,” Admire said. “It’s a disease of the brain. They can go to detox or a rehab facility, and they get off the actual drug, but the brain still craves it. They’ll do whatever they have to, to get what they need.”

This situation isn’t unique to Madison County. Heroin overdose deaths are up in a lot of regions, as Madison County Coroner Steve Nonn told the Belleville paper.

“It is to say the least disappointing to see the heroin numbers rising as they did,” he said. “However, the numbers only parallel what is being seen nationally.”

Indeed, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, somewhere around 8,200 people die of heroin overdoses every year. It is estimated that 75% began with legal prescription drugs.

As drug use is going up, so are drug deaths—in part because the purity of heroin is increasing. Daniel Haskenhoff, the deputy coroner in neighboring St. Clair County, said that 30 years ago, heroin was around 50% pure—but today that number has skyrocketed to around 80 or 90%.

To address the rise in drug use, Admire now works with a volunteer group that helps families find their way through the complexities of addiction treatment. As is the case elsewhere, availability, insurance and cost are major barriers.

Also, he’s pushing for awareness and education.

“I’ve talked to a lot of teachers and parents who think they don’t have a problem,” he said. “Most parents think, ‘My kid would never do that.’ I thought there was absolutely no way my kid would do heroin. … I got into the game a little late.”

This story originally appeared on The Fix.

Another Look at the Candidates’ Positions on Drug Policy

Just a few months ago, addiction was barely getting any mention in the race for the White House, but now it’s the hot topic on every candidate’s lips. Here’s a look at where some of the frontrunners stand on drug policy issues right now.

Donald Trump

Over the years, Trump has been all over the place on drug policy. Back in 1990, he suggested legalizing all drugs and keeping the profits for drug education.

“We’re losing badly the war on drugs,” he said at an event in Florida, according to theSarasota Herald-Tribune. “You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.”

But 25 years later, he wasn’t even in favor of marijuana legalization, based on his comments at the 2015 CPAC conference. In response to a question about marijuana legalization, he said, “I say it’s bad. Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think it’s bad, and I feel strongly about it.”

However, in October he clarified that he’s okay with leaving the matter up to individual states. At a rally in Nevada, he said, “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state,” according to the Washington Post.

While that’s not exactly a progressive view, at this point it’s still more progressive than some. Chris Christie, for instance, has vowed to crack down on recreational marijuana use even in the states that have already legalized it.

Another hot-button drug issue this election season has been the heroin epidemic. Trump’s proposed solution to that is the same solution he offers for seemingly everything: build a wall.

Back in June, Trump enraged Latinos and sensible people everywhere when he blamed various types of crime—including the drug trade—on Mexicans.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best … they’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us,” he said. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

In January, Trump took that thought to its logical (for Trump) conclusion and advocated again for his border wall idea, this time implying that it could help stem the heroin crisis. At a rally in New Hampshire, he fielded a question about heroin and, oddly lapsing into millennial-speak, replied, “The problem of heroin in New Hampshire is unbelievable, it’s like an unbelievable problem that you have.”

But, for this “unbelievable” problem, Trump offered this unbelievable answer:

“It’s always the first question I get, and they have a problem all over. And it comes through the border,” the frontrunner said, according to Politico. “We’re going to build a wall, number one, we’re going to build a wall, and it’s going to be a real wall.” Apparently he doesn’t think imaginary walls will win the war on drugs. (Of course, real walls won’t either.)

Hillary Clinton 

Like Trump, Clinton has been confronted with the heroin crisis during visits to New Hampshire. Speaking in Salem in December, Clinton talked about how big the issue has become on the campaign trail.

“I’ve had two town halls right here in New Hampshire … where the only subject was substance abuse,” she said, according to The Huffington Post. She went on to ask the crowd how many people had witnessed or been affected by a mental health problem or by substance abuse—and nearly every hand in the house went up.

Because of moments like that elsewhere on the campaign trail, in September, Clinton announced a $10 billion plan to fight addiction.

“This is not new,” she wrote when she unveiled the plan in an op-ed for the New Hampshire Union-Leader. “We’re not just now ‘discovering’ this problem. But we should be saying enough is enough,” she wrote. “It’s time we recognize as a nation that for too long, we have had a quiet epidemic on our hands. Plain and simple, drug and alcohol addiction is a disease, not a moral failing—and we must treat it as such.”

The plan would include $7.5 billion in funding for states to develop and improve programs to fight addiction. Also, the plan would make sure first responders have naloxone, train health care providers to better recognize substance abuse before prescribing certain drugs, and “prioritize treatment over prison for low-level and nonviolent offenders.”

Ted Cruz

Like Trump, Cruz has tied the solution to addiction to border security. In January, the Canadian-born candidate said that cartels are trafficking “drugs in vast quantities” from Mexico and that cracking down on immigration is the solution.

He also struggled to connect with voters on the issue by making it personal. Carly Fiorina has spoken repeatedly about her stepdaughter’s struggle with addiction, and it turns out that Cruz has a similar tale to tell.

“I know New Hampshire in particular has been hit hard with the heroin epidemic, it is really ugly,” Cruz said during his January visit to Keene, according to BuzzFeed. “I will note this is an issue I have more than passing experience with. My older sister Miriam died of a drug overdose. And so she was 9 years older than I am. She had a hard life. She made a lot of foolish decisions over and over and over again. And she had problems with drinking and substance abuse. One morning she didn’t wake up, she had overdosed. It is a horrible scourge in our society.”

Those in the addiction and recovery community might reasonably hope that Cruz understands addiction as more than “a lot of foolish decisions,” but it’s great to see him opening up about the issue in some capacity.

Bernie Sanders 

The senator from Vermont scored points in the recovery community when he came out swinging during a December debate in New Hampshire.

“I think we have got to tell the medical profession and doctors who are prescribing opiates, and the pharmaceutical industry that they have got to start getting their act together. We cannot have this huge number of opiates out there throughout this country where young people are taking them, getting hooked, and then going to heroin,” he said.

He drew applause when he went on to add, “We need to understand that addiction is a disease, not a criminal activity. And that means radically changing the way we deal with mental health and addiction issues.”

At the January debate, Sanders again tackled the issue, focusing on the responsibility of drug companies. “There is a responsibility on the part of the pharmaceutical industry and the drug companies who are producing all of these drugs and not looking at the consequence of it,” he said, according to Vox.

Last year, Sanders called out pharma companies for a different addiction-related issue—the high price of naloxone. Sanders—along with Clinton and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.)—penned a letter to the National Governors Association and National Association of Attorneys General, asking them to help push for agreements between states and naloxone distributors.

“The opioid abuse epidemic is a public health emergency that must be addressed, and no company should jeopardize the progress many states have made in tackling this emergency by overcharging for a critically important drug like naloxone,” the letter said, according to The Hill. 

Ben Carson 

The bucket of crazy known as Ben Carson has, of course, continued to be crazy when it comes to addressing addiction. Carson offered a real head-scratcher when asked about addiction on Face the Nation in November.

“[U]sually, addictions occur in people who are vulnerable, who are lacking something in their lives,” he said. “And so we have to really start asking ourselves, what have we taken out of our lives in America? What are some of those values and principles that allowed us to ascend the ladder of success so rapidly to the very pinnacle of the world and the highest pinnacle anyone else had ever reached?

“And why are we in the process of throwing away all of our values and principles for the sake of political correctness?”

Unlike some of the others in the race, Carson has not offered any specific plan to combat addiction and—disappointingly, for a doctor—he hasn’t even shown any basic understanding of what addiction is. Instead, he’s content to sit back and blame it all on political correctness—and Mexico.

Echoing Trump and Cruz, Carson spoke about drugs in relation to the southern border. At a January town hall in Staten Island, the neurosurgeon said that law enforcement at the border had shown him “incredible loads of heroin and marijuana … It’s coming through like an express highway and we’re not stopping it. And that’s why in a lot of cities, you know, you can buy a pack of heroin for less than you can buy a pack of cigarettes and it’s destroying us,” according to the Staten Island Advance.

Marco Rubio

The Florida senator has not spoken as much about drugs as some of the other candidates. One of the notably odd and uninformed things he has said, though, was an attempt to use the uptick in opiate use as justification for opposing marijuana legalization.

“You talk about New Hampshire for a moment. One of the stories that has not been as reported nationally, is the fact that many of the people who today are dependent on heroin, is because they became dependent on prescription opiates,” Rubio said when asked why he does not support marijuana legalization at a forum in New Hampshire in August, according to the Daily Beast. 

What’s especially weird about that statement is that it would seem to imply that he’s against medical marijuana, too, since he’s pointing out prescription substances as the source of problems. However, he doesn’t oppose the use of medical marijuana—just recreational pot, according to an October article in Mother Jones. 

This article was originally published on The Fix.

One In Three Adults In Northern Kentucky Knows A Heroin User

Kentucky—especially northern Kentucky—has been hard hit by the heroin epidemic, and the latest numbers prove it.

The Kentucky Health Issues Poll, released by a Cincinnati-based foundation called Interact for Health, showed that overall 13% of Kentucky residents know someone who has used heroin.

However, in northern Kentucky, those numbers are higher. The foundation found that 35% of people in northern Kentucky said yes when asked if they had a friend or family member who has used heroin.

That’s an increase over 2014 data, which showed that roughly one in four northern Kentuckians knew someone who used heroin. Even before the increase, the numbers were shocking, but not to people who have been paying attention to the growing crisis.

“The number of overdoses in 2015 are significantly higher than 2014, so one would expect the number of people who know a victim would be up, too,” Jim Thaxton, coordinator for the Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact Response Task Force, told TheCincinnati Inquirer.

According to a St. Elizabeth’s Healthcare 2015 year-end report, ER staff treated—and often reversed—1,168 overdoses, a 57% increase over 2014 numbers.

Thaxton also offered comments that could point to another reason for the increase in the number of people who say they know an addict. Namely, more people are willing to talk about addiction today.

“The stigma associated with people recovering from substance use disorders appears to be declining, allowing more open discussion. It is now socially acceptable to tell people you are in recovery,” he said.

That’s not to say it’s the whole cause of the startling data, though; advocates see anecdotal evidence that backs up the numbers. “Too many people are attending the funerals of neighbors, students, family members,” said Bonnie Hedrick, coordinator for NKY Prevention Alliance. “Families are desperate and are seeking help from family, friends, and trusted acquaintances.”

The latest poll was conducted in September and October, using a random sample of 1,608 adults from across the state. Researchers estimated that the margin of error is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.

The story originally appeared on The Fix.


How Cocaine Alters The Brain’s Sensitivity To Future Doses

A new study has shown that doing cocaine once can make you more sensitive to the drug for almost a week after.

Scientists at Bordeaux University determined that stimulation in one part of the brain—the ventral subiculum, or vSUB—makes the dopamine neurons in another part of the brain go into a hyperactive state. That whole process makes the brain more sensitive to coke for up to five days after use.

The vSUB has sometimes been labeled the “addiction center” of the brain because previous studies have linked it to drug-seeking impulses.

One of the study’s co-authors, Francois Georges, told IFLScience that the study is important because scientists have now identified “a neuronal circuit that for sure is changed during cocaine administration.”

The studies were conducted using rats as subjects and employed a method called high frequency stimulation, which involves using electric currents to stimulate synapses in a process that is believed to have the same effect as a large dose of cocaine.

Then researchers looked at the resulting neuronal activity and found that the vSUB increased the responsiveness of dopamine neurons elsewhere.

“By synaptic stimulation we were able to change the plasticity of the dopaminergic neurons,” Georges explained. “Through this stimulation we put the brain into a phase where it becomes more receptive to low doses of cocaine. It’s like we prepared the brain to be more responsive to the drug.”

That all could have important implications for drug users. According to Georges, it could be the first step to finding a way to treat cocaine addiction. Essentially, this circuit shows how to make cocaine more potent, but it might hold the key to making it less potent as well.

“The idea now would be to manipulate this circuit to see if we can reduce the effect of cocaine, which could be a lead to decrease cocaine intake in drug addicts,” he said.

This story was originally published on The Fix.

Is Addiction Strictly a Young Person’s Disease?

A recently released analysis of data shows that there’s been huge growth in the percentage of the treatment population that falls into the over 50 demographic.

Lead researcher Dr. Benjamin Han of New York University said that his group looked at the demographics of those in treatment for opioid use between 1996 and 2012 and found that, in that period, adults over 50 became the majority of the treatment population.

People in their 50s made up 8% of opioid treatment patients in 1996, but by 2012 they made up a whopping 36% of that population.

The representation of people in their 60s increased from 1.5% to 12% in the same period. Interestingly, in the over 60 population there was a 10% increase among whites, but only a 4% increase among Hispanics and a 14% decrease among blacks.

“These increases are especially striking, considering there was about a 7.6% decrease in the total patient population over that period of time, and suggests that we are facing a never before seen epidemic of older adults with substance use disorders and increasing numbers of older adults in substance abuse treatment,” Han said.

While the percentage of those in treatment in older age demographics increased, the percentage of younger people in treatment decreased. Patients 40 and under made up 56% of the treatment population in 1996, but just 20% in 2012.

Although the study, published in the Journal of Substance Use & Misuse, looked at the demographics of who is in treatment for opioid addiction, it did not look at whether the demographics of who is using opiates in the first place has changed. It did, however, conclude that the current trend is likely to continue into the future and that additional research is needed to learn more about older opioid treatment patients.

Originally published on The Fix.