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Caring for the older drug user: substance misuse, mental health and ageing

Date Published:
31 May 2012

The Australian health system must brace itself for an increase in ageing heroin users, warns NDARC’s Professor Shane Darke.

While the average age of death of a typical heroin user is early thirties and half are expected to be dead by age 50, those who survive are likely to persist in their use, he says.

These older users in their 40s, 50s and beyond have rates of hepatic, cardiovascular, pulmonary and musculoskeletal pathology that are more typical of the elderly.

“Such is the longevity of heroin use that the issue of aged care for heroin users is soon to become a major public health issue,” says Darke.

The number of illicit drug users in the US who will require treatment is expected to double between 2001 and 2020, says Professor Darke.

Similarly in Europe those receiving drug treatment who are aged over 65 years will double across this period.

The indicators we have in Australia, such as age of people accessing treatment, point to the fact that we are also seeing similar patterns of ageing among heroin users, he says.

Professor Darke will present on the policy and clinical implications of the ageing heroin user at the NSW Health Creating Synergy conference in Wollongong later this month.

What: Creating Synergy Conference: Substance misuse, mental health and ageing - embracing the complexity of a changing environment

When: 27-28 June 2012

Where: Novotel Wollongong

For full conference details and to register online visit www.creatingsynergy.org.au

Darke, S. 2011, The life of the heroin user: Typical beginnings, trajectories and outcomes, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.