Pharmacists urged to look out for signs of substance misuse in over 50s

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A consultant psychiatrist who specialises in older people has urged pharmacists to be “more vigilant” over the detection of substance misuse in people aged over 50 years.

It follows the publication of a
BMJ editorial
that warns that the number of older people experiencing problems from alcohol and drug misuse is growing rapidly, with those receiving treatment expected to double in Europe by 2020.

One of the authors, Tony Rao, consultant psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and visiting researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, said pharmacists should look out for signs of misuse when customers come to hospitals to collect prescriptions.

They should be “aware of possible drug interactions”, “particularly with opioid drugs” and advise patients about such risks as drowsiness and breathing problems, if they have substance misuse, and or alcohol misuse issues, he said. 

The editorial, ‘Substance misuse in older people’, calls for a coordinated international approach to tackle this rapidly growing problem among the so-called ‘baby boomer’ generation.

While in the UK and Australia, risky drinking is declining, there was an upward trend for episodic heavy drinking among those aged 50 years and older, researchers found. 

This generational trend is not only confined to alcohol. The study revealed that between 2013 and 2016 in Australia, the largest percentage increase in drug misuse was among those aged 60 years and over, with this age group mainly misusing prescription drugs.

People aged over 50 years also have higher rates than younger age groups for misusing drugs, notably cannabis, researchers said. 

Rao said the findings highlighted that “‘baby boomers’ are now more likely than younger people to misuse alcohol prescription drugs and cannabis”.

“I’m now seeing three to four times the number of people with substance misuse than fifteen years ago, particularly those people in their mid-sixties who are addicted to prescription drugs and/or misusing cannabis,” he said. 

The editorial follows a report by the Scottish Drugs Forum, entitled ‘Older People with Drug Problems in Scotland: A Mixed Methods Study Exploring Health and Social Support Needs’, which investigated the needs of people with drug problems aged over 35 years, with an increasing number in their 50s and 60s.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, Pharmacists urged to look out for signs of substance misuse in over 50s;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2017.20203439

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