BANGOR, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins says baby boomers are playing an increasingly vital role in Maine’s economy because they’re forced to work rather than retire.

Collins spoke Thursday to an audience at the Dyke Center for Family Business on the Husson University campus about issues ranging from student debt to passing on the family business and the role Mainers young and old play in the state’s business climate.

Collins said the 55-64 age group is “starting businesses at a greater rate than any other age group.”

“They’ve generally worked for many years, built up expertise, set up networks, and always wanted to be their own boss,” she said.

Some of those baby boomers are being forced to work later than expected. For some, retirement savings and Social Security benefits no longer are enough to survive on.

“We have people that are outliving their savings” and need another “leg of the stool in order to live,” Collins added. That other leg is more work.

The Republican senator also discussed the issue of student debt. The average Maine student leaves school with $32,000 in student loan debt.

“That can be discouraging,” but the investment often is worth it, Collins said, citing the oft-referenced statistic that, on average, a college graduate earns $1 million more during the course of their life than someone without a degree.

Collins said federal lawmakers are paying careful attention to the cost of student loans. In 2013, legislation prevented an expected doubling of interest rates from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. She said Congress is considering expanding loan forgiveness programs.

The senator also covered the topic of drugs — especially heroin. She stressed that the nation couldn’t counter with a singular effort, but needs to focus on education, law enforcement and treatment.

She tied gang members in “hot spots” such as Mexico, Massachusetts and Connecticut to the spread of heroin in Bangor.

“They’re coming to Maine with drugs and getting addicts to buy guns for them, and they’re swapping the guns for the drugs,” Collins said. The drug users and dealers in Maine are able to pass background checks that the gang members can’t, she said.

“I was shocked when I learned about the link between this gang in New Haven, Connecticut, and Bangor, Maine,” Collins said.

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.