An increasing number of the baby-boom generation are taking illegal drugs and drinking to excess as they grow older, campaigners have warned.
According to a report released by the charity DrugScope today in which it warns of a "silent epidemic", while the number of people treated for the use of drugs like heroin and crack cocaine is falling in the population as a whole, numbers are rising among people aged 40 and over.
DrugScope found that the problem is also not limited to those who have taken drugs in their younger years – it noted that “significant numbers of older people are also "late starters", using substances to self-medicate physical and psychological problems associated with getting older”.
Public Health England has warned that the increasingly unhealthy older population “with its persistent [substance abuse] problems” will present the NHS with a “significant challenge" in the years to come.
Today’s report noted that an estimated 1.4 million people aged over 65 now exceed recommended drinking limits, and that alcohol-related hospital admissions for over-65s more than doubled from 2002 to the start of this decade.
For the 75-plus group alcohol-related deaths are at the highest level since records began in 1991, DrugScope said.
Marcus Roberts, DrugScope’s chief executive, said: “Drug and alcohol policy and practice – and the attention of the media - invariably focuses on young people.
“Drugs and alcohol issues may affect older people differently, but that does not make them less real or important. They may be a symptom of other problems, such as loneliness and isolation, caring for a partner, bereavement or the struggle to make ends meet.
He added: “We need to develop a range of age-appropriate interventions, and to make the connections between drug and alcohol issues and older people policy, both nationally and locally.
“It’s time to bring this largely ‘invisible’ issue into the light and to improve the support for older people with drug and alcohol issues.”