Drug abuse is usually associated with the young. However, these youths eventually grow older and if they don’t kick their bad habits by middle age, then they are in big trouble.
A recent study by UK researchers report on a new challenge facing the health care and social systems of many countries: the aging drug users. The researchers studied drugs users aged 49 to 61 who in contact with voluntary sector drug treatment services. Their findings how that these people as especially vulnerable because:
- Their cases are under-researched and underserved.
- They have more than the usual chronic illnesses in this age group basically because they suffer from the effects of drug abuse exacerbated by age-related disorders.
According to study author Brenda Roe, Professor of Health Research at Edge Hill University, UK:
“This exploratory study, together with our wider research, suggest that older people who continue to use problematic or illegal drugs are emerging as an important, but relatively under-researched, international population. They are a vulnerable group, as their continued drug use, addiction and life experiences result in impaired health, chronic conditions, particular health needs and poorer quality of life. Despite this, services for older drug addicts are not widely available or accessed in the UK.”
Everybody grows older, including the problem children of yesteryears. The health care system is already overburdened by an aging population who are relatively healthy. How much more can it take in order to take care of the aging drug abuser? Recent statistics from the US show that the number of drug users and alcoholics above 50 is increasing. The reported figure of 1.7 million in 2000 is expected to increase to 4.4 million by 2020. In the meantime, the 65 plus drug users are also increasing.
The health problems most commonly identified among aging drug users are:
- deep vein thrombosis
- injection site ulcers
- respiratory problems
- liver cirrhosis
- weight disorders (loss and obesity)
- accidental injuries
- drug overdoses
- mental health problems such as memory loss, paranoia and mood swings
Professor Roe continues:
“Our population is aging and the people who started using drugs in the sixties are now reaching retirement age. It is clear that further research is needed to enable health and social care professionals to develop appropriate services for this increasingly vulnerable group. We also feel that older drug users could play a key role in educating younger people about the dangers of drug use.”