"Hidden epidemic": UN experts warn against rising drug use among the elderly

Vienna, Austria - Drug use among older people is increasing worldwide, UN drug experts have found, describing it as a worrying trend caused by the aging of populations and a lack of awareness on the part of governments.

UN experts are worried as drug use among older people is increasing worldwide (stock image).
UN experts are worried as drug use among older people is increasing worldwide (stock image).  © Charles Wollertz/123RF

According to the annual report by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) published in Vienna on Thursday, drug consumption rates in older age groups were growing more rapidly than among younger generations.

"This increase, mostly in high-income countries, may be the result of the ageing of the 'baby-boomer' generation," the INCB wrote.

Baby boomers are those born between 1946 and 1964, the post-World War II era notorious for its high birth rates. The generation came of age during a period with relatively high levels of illicit drug use and medication misuse.

However, governments were rarely paying attention to the issue, the report said.

The phenomenon was also detected in other regions. Studies on India and Nigeria suggested substantial drug use in the 45-64 age group. In Nigeria, people over 60 are more likely to take cough syrups and sedatives for nonmedical purposes than younger people, according to the INCB.

Older drug users are at higher risk for health issues, the experts wrote. They spoke of a "hidden epidemic," since many didn’t dare to ask for professional help and were therefore left to deal with the problem alone.

"We need to increase the research and get better data collection, we need to combat stigma, and we need to have age appropriate care,” ICNB President Cornelis de Joncheere told journalists on Thursday.

The INCB also expressed concern about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the supply of medical painkillers and anaesthetics.

Some countries have restricted exports in order to treat their Covid-19 patients in intensive care units, the experts wrote, adding that this, in turn, has led to shortages in other countries.

Cover photo: Charles Wollertz/123RF

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