Research reveals people presenting with drug addiction are now older

New research data indicates that people presenting with addiction are older than before. This trend is likely to grow and place new demands on Ireland's drug treatment services

Anne Marie Carew, HRB
Anne Marie Carew, HRB

‘There is actually very little high-quality information known about ageing among the opioid treatment population’, says Anne Marie Carew, from the Health Research Board and the lead author on a new paper that examines this subject.

‘Our paper ‘Treatment for opioid use and outcomes in older adults: a systematic literature review’, trawled the international research that was available about older people entering drug treatment.

‘From a starting point of 15,000 different sources, we ended up with 76 reliable research papers which addressed the subject of older people and problem substance use’.

'In a nutshell we found that while the total numbers of people being entering treatment is falling, the age profile is getting older. Twenty years ago you would not have seen someone over 50 years of age entering treatment for the first time. Now, services are seeing people in their 50s, 60s and 70s coming into treatment’.

The findings are consistent with other data coming from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA)* (*See references below).

Professor Catherine Comiskey, a co-author, from the School of Nursing and Midwifery, Trinity College Dublin adds,

'This research provides us with an early warning about a trend that's likely to place new demands on our treatment services. Together with the data from Europe they suggest a growing problem as the treatment needs of this cohort of people will be quite different from the needs of younger people, around whom services have traditionally been built.

'Twenty years ago the typical person using heroin and entering treatment for the first time was in their late teens and early 20s, and they had been using for a relatively short period of time. Now data shows that that age profile has changed, with the median age for first treatment shifting 11 years from 20 to 31 years old.  Also people using drugs today have been using for much longer before entering treatment, nearly seven years compared to just two years’.

Anne Maries Carew notes,

‘Using the HRB National Drug Treatment Reporting System, we have an opportunity to mine over twenty years of data to better understand the likely scale of this challenge’.

The research paper was published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence at the first link below. And, at the request of the EMCDDA, it was presented at their recent meeting of European treatment experts to highlight the significance and impact of the emerging problem.

* The European Drug Report 2017 Trends and Developments; and Health and Social Responses to Drug Problems 2017