01:57pm Wednesday 23 August 2017

Increasing drug use in older adults

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New research has found that the lifetime use of cannabis, amphetamine, cocaine and LSD in 50-64 year olds has significantly increased since 1993 and is much higher than lifetime use in adults aged over 65. The study, led by researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) at King’s College London also found that drug use in inner London was higher than the overall UK average.

The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) for Mental Health at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London. Researchers analysed data from the South East London Community Health (SELCoH) and the 2007 English National Survey of Psychiatric Morbidity – a total of 2,009 people aged 65 and over and 1,827 people aged 55-64. 

Professor Robert Stewart, from the IoP at King’s and senior author of the study published today in the journal Age and Ageing says: ‘Our findings confirm what we have long-suspected but which has not, to our knowledge, ever been formally investigated in the UK – namely that illicit drug use will become a more common feature in older generations over the next 1-2 decades. 

‘One particular issue is that we really know very little about the effects of drugs like cannabis in older people but will need to work fast if research is to keep up with its wider use at these ages.’

Cannabis was the most frequent drug used. Lifetime cannabis use was reported by 1.7% of people aged 65 and over, and by 11.4% of people aged 50-64 in the England sample. In the inner London sample, these proportions were 9.4% for people aged 65 and over and 42.8% for those aged 50-64. 

Recent cannabis use (i.e. within the last 12 months) was reported by 0.4% of people aged 65 and over, and by 1.8% of people aged 50-64 in the England sample. In the inner London sample, these proportions were 1.1% for people aged over 65 and 9.0% for those aged 50-64. 

While the series of national surveys carried out from 1993 to 2007 did not contain data on the oldest end of the age range, patterns of cannabis use in middle age (50-64 year olds) were consistent with a rapid increase. In 50-64 year olds, lifetime use increased approximately ten-fold from 1.0% in 1993 to 11.4% in 2007, and recent use had multiplied by a similar extent from 0.2% in 1993 to 2.0% in 2007. The authors suggest therefore that drug use in over 65 year olds will also increase as this generation reach an older age. 

Use of other illicit drugs is reported in the paper and remained substantially less common. Lifetime amphetamine use had increased substantially although recent reported use remained uncommon. Tranquiliser use showed more stability. 

Professor Steward concludes: ‘Our data suggest at the very least that large numbers of people are entering older age groups with lifestyles about which we know little in terms of their effects on health and would benefit from further monitoring – in particular, health service staff providing care for older people should be aware of the possibility of illicit drug use as part of the clinical context, particularly as previous research and policy reports have suggested that this is often missed.’

For full paper: Fahmy, V. et al. ‘Prevalence of illicit drug use in people aged 50 years and over from two surveys’, Age and Ageing, doi: 10.1093/ageing/afs020

The 2007 National Survey of Psychiatric Morbidity was supported by the Department of Health. The South East London Community Health (SELCoH) study was funded by the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust Trustees, The Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity and the Uk National Institute for Health Research as par of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust NIHR Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health. The researchers were funded by the NIHR Specialist Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London.

For more information, please contact Seil Collins (Press Officer, Institute of Psychiatry) email: seil.collins@kcl.ac.uk or tel: 0207 848 5377 


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