The Advisory Panel on Substance Misuse (APoSM) to the Welsh Government have published a new report looking at the challenges of managing the treatment and care of older people who have substance use problems. This report also has implications for Scotland, as the narrative of an ageing cohort of people with substance use problems is also the case in this country.
The report, entitled ‘Substance Misuse in an Ageing Population’ states that in Wales, the trend towards an increasing proportion of older adults (defined as those aged 50-plus) in the population is more pronounced than elsewhere in the UK: the proportion of the older population in Wales is projected to rise to 41 per cent by 2020.
Not only are there an increasing number of older adults forming a bigger proportion of the population, they are, as a group, more likely than earlier generations to develop substance use problems – meaning greater demands on health, social care and other services.
In Welsh prisons, people aged 60-and-over are the fastest-growing age group. Older prisoners often have substance use problems when they enter prison but their substance-use related needs may not be adequately met in the prison system.
Chronic diseases are more frequent in older adults and there is increased pressure on resources for pain management; the use of multiple and long-term medication which can lead to dependence is therefore common in this group.
The report recommends that older people with substance use problems do not receive as much attention as young people with the same issues: yet preventing, detecting and addressing problem substance use in older adults is important. Generic services are increasingly having to deal with an ageing population and will need to give greater attention to this group. Services specifically for older adults need to be aware of, and address, substance use among their clients.