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Cannabis and Prescription Drug Use Among Older Adults With Functional Impairment

  • Benjamin H. Han
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to: Benjamin H. Han, MD, Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology, Department of Medicine, University of California San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, San Diego CA 92093.
    Affiliations
    Division of Geriatrics, Gerontology, and Palliative Care, Department of Medicine, UC San Diego School of Medicine, University of California San Diego, San Diego, California
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  • Austin Le
    Affiliations
    College of Dentistry, New York University, New York, New York

    Department of Population Health, New York University Grossman School of Medicine, New York, New York
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  • Makaya Funk-White
    Affiliations
    Division of Geriatrics, Gerontology, and Palliative Care, Department of Medicine, UC San Diego School of Medicine, University of California San Diego, San Diego, California
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  • Joseph J. Palamar
    Affiliations
    Department of Population Health, New York University Grossman School of Medicine, New York, New York
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      Introduction

      Psychoactive substance use may be risky for adults with functional impairments. This study investigates cannabis use and prescription opioid and tranquilizer/sedative (mis)use among adults aged ≥50 years reporting functional impairments in the U.S.

      Methods

      This cross-sectional analysis of adults aged ≥50 years from the 2015–2019 cohorts of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates the prevalence of past-year medical and nonmedical cannabis use and prescription opioid and tranquilizer/sedative use and misuse according to the number of functional impairments reported. The adjusted odds of medical and nonmedical use or misuse of each substance in relation to any impairment, the number of impairments, and specific impairments were estimated using logistic regression. Analyses were conducted in December 2020.

      Results

      Compared with those reporting no impairments, those reporting any impairment were more likely to report the use of cannabis and the (mis)use of prescription opioids and tranquilizers/sedatives (all p<0.05). Prevalence of (mis)use increased for each drug as the number of impairments increased (all p<0.001). Having any impairment was associated with increased odds for medical cannabis use (AOR=2.28, 95% CI=1.57, 3.30) but not for nonmedical use and with increased odds for misuse of prescription opioids (AOR=1.62, 95% CI=1.38, 1.91) and tranquilizers/sedatives (AOR=1.59, 95% CI=1.20, 2.11). Impaired thinking was associated with increased odds for the use and misuse of each substance, and impaired ability to do errands was associated with increased odds for prescription opioid misuse (AOR=1.34, 95% CI=1.01, 1.78).

      Conclusions

      Prescription drug misuse is linked to functional impairments among adults aged ≥50 years and may pose a potential risk for this vulnerable population.
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