Home > Drugs in Focus – policy briefing.

Moore, Joan (2008) Drugs in Focus – policy briefing. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 26, Summer 2008, pp. 29-30.

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No. 18: Substance use among older adults: a neglected problem

 According to this briefing in the EMCDDA Drugs in focus series, the number of older people with substance use problems or requiring treatment for a substance use disorder is estimated to more than double between 2001 and 2020, placing new and greater demands on treatment services. Programmes that are accustomed to dealing mainly with young populations will need to adapt to meet the needs of this older group.
The paper discusses key issues in relation to substance use in older people under six headings: prescribed and over-the-counter drugs; illicit drugs; alcohol; special risks for the elderly; identification and assessment; and treatment interventions and services. 
The briefing concludes with a series of policy considerations:
·       Relatively little is known about the treatment of substance use in older adults. However, older patients engage well with treatment programmes, and can achieve satisfactory treatment outcomes.
·       Problematic use of prescribed and over-the-counter medications by older adults is common. Improved identification requires regular monitoring of medication use and treatment response, and careful assessment of other social and health problems that could be caused by substance use.
·       The prevalence of illicit drug use by older adults is increasing. Addiction treatment and other healthcare services are insufficiently aware of the needs of older drug users and need to anticipate and prepare for predicted increases in demand from this age group.
·       Alcohol problems are more prevalent among older adults and may co-exist with problem drug use. Drug services may need to review their care systems to ensure that alcohol-related problems are recognised.
·       Many social, psychological and health problems may affect older adults and put them at increased risk of substance use. Such problems require specific attention if interventions for this group are to be fully effective.
·       Improved assessment of substance use disorders among older adults may require age-specific measures of use and dependence. Although the identification of substance use disorders may be difficult, primary care and other healthcare services are well placed to screen for substance use problems.
·       Appropriate and effective treatment should be tailored to the specific needs of older drug users. This may require modifying existing forms of treatment, or developing new ones. In particular, treatment should be more attentive to co-morbid health conditions faced by older adults.
Drugnet Europe is the quarterly newsletter of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). Drugs in focus is a series of policy briefings published by the EMCDDA. Both publications are available at http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/.
If you would like a hard copy of the current or future issues of either publication, please contact:
Alcohol and Drug Research Unit, Health Research Board, Knockmaun House, 42–47 Lower Mount Street, Dublin 2. Tel: 01 2345 127; Email: adru@hrb.ie.
Item Type
Publication Type
International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 26, Summer 2008
Page Range
pp. 29-30
Health Research Board
Issue 26, Summer 2008
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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