Drug use in 50- to 64-year-olds has increased 10-fold in England since 1993

April 5, 2012

Until now, illicit drug use has not been common in older people. However, it is likely to become more common as generations that use drugs more frequently reach an older age.

New research published today in the journal Age and Ageing has found that the lifetime use of , amphetamine, and in 50-64 year olds has significantly increased since 1993 and is much higher than lifetime use in aged over 65. The study also found that drug use in inner London was higher than the overall UK average.

The study, entitled 'Prevalences of in people aged 50 years and over from two surveys', analysed data on illicit drug use from two household surveys*. The most recent included 2,009 people aged 65 and 1,827 people aged 55-65. The inner London survey included 284 and 176 people in these respective age groups

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% and 42.8% respectively. 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% and 9.0% respectively. 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 were consistent with a rapid increase – in 50-64 year olds, lifetime use had 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.

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

Senior author of the study Prof. Robert Stewart, from King's College London, comments that "the key message of this paper confirms something which has been 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."

"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."

Key points

-- Little is known within the UK about the prevalence of illicit drug use in late-life.
-- The prevalence of illicit drug use in English residents aged 65+ years is currently low (for cannabis, the most commonly used: 0.4% recent use, 1.7% lifetime use) but is higher in inner London (for cannabis: 1.1% recent use, 9.4% lifetime use).
-- The prevalence of some use in people aged 50-64 years is higher than that in 65+ year olds (recent and lifetime use of cannabis 1.8% and 11.4% respectively in , 9.0% and 42.8% respectively).
-- Projected increasing use of cannabis in older is confirmed by past trends observed in previous mental health surveys in 1993 and 2000.
-- The clinical and public health relevance of these potential secular changes in both lifetime and recent prevalence is not clear but should be a research priority. There is a need to develop a treatment infrastructure that is sensitive to problems of older illicit users.

Explore further: Cannabis link to other drugs

Related Stories

Cannabis link to other drugs

July 19, 2011
Quitting cannabis use in your 20s significantly reduces the chance of progressing to other illicit drugs, according to research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

High childhood IQ linked to subsequent illicit drug use

November 15, 2011
A high childhood IQ may be linked to subsequent illegal drug use, particularly among women, suggests research published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Latest global study provides snapshot of drug-related harm

January 6, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- A new Australian drug study published today in The Lancet has found that cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug globally, while opioid use is a major cause of death.

200 million use illegal drugs: Lancet estimate

January 6, 2012
About 200 million people around the world use illicit drugs, according to a study published on Friday in The Lancet.

Cannabis use doubles chances of vehicle crash

February 9, 2012
Drivers who consume cannabis within three hours of driving are nearly twice as likely to cause a vehicle collision as those who are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol claims a paper published today in the British ...

New study proposes public health guidelines to reduce the harms from cannabis use

September 22, 2011
A new research study conducted by an international team of experts recommends a public health approach to cannabis - including evidence-based guidelines for lower-risk use - to reduce the health harms that result from the ...

Recommended for you

Marijuana use amongst youth stable, but substance abuse admissions up

August 15, 2017
While marijuana use amongst youth remains stable, youth admission to substance abuse treatment facilities has increased, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Report reveals underground US haven for heroin, drug users

August 8, 2017
A safe haven where drug users inject themselves with heroin and other drugs has been quietly operating in the United States for the past three years, a report reveals.

Regular energy drink use linked to later drug use among young adults

August 8, 2017
Could young adults who regularly consume highly caffeinated energy drinks be at risk for future substance use? A new study by University of Maryland School of Public Health researchers, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol ...

Gamblers more likely to have suffered childhood traumas, research shows

August 2, 2017
Men with problem and pathological gambling addictions are more likely to have suffered childhood traumas including physical abuse or witnessing violence in the home, according to new research.

Incorporating 12-step program elements improves youth substance-use disorder treatment

July 26, 2017
A treatment program for adolescents with substance-use disorder that incorporates the practices and philosophy of 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) produced even better results than the current state-of-the ...

Concern with potential rise in super-potent cannabis concentrates

July 21, 2017
University of Queensland researchers are concerned the recent legalisation of medicinal cannabis in Australia may give rise to super-potent cannabis concentrates with associated harmful effects.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.