Illegal drug use is not something that most of us would associate with older people, but new research shows that a growing number of people over the age of 60 have recently taken illicit drugs.

A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has found that the number of people aged 60 and above who have recently used illicit drugs increased from 4.0% percent to 7.9 percent in a 15-year period.

Alcohol and Drug Foundation spokeswoman Melinda Lucas spoke with HelloCare earlier today and detailed some of the possible causes for the increase. 

“It’s not necessarily about addiction,” said Ms Lucas.

“People who are accounted for in this cohort might have only used once, whereas others might use every day. So it’s a very broad data set.”

“Part of what we are also looking at here is an aging cohort of people who have consumed substances in their younger years, who may have decreased their use, but still use things like cannabis once or twice a year.”

“There is also 2015 research that shows a number of older people who have been prescribed opioids are also self-medicating with unregulated cannabis because they are getting benefits out of that.”

Medical cannabis has been legal in Australia since 2016, but the barriers involved in obtaining a prescription may have resulted in many people opting to self-medicate with cannabis illegally.

As a society, the general public is quite supportive of medicinal cannabis, but there have been growing concerns in recent times regarding the number of Australians developing opioid addictions.

The US is currently in the midst of an opioid epidemic, and experts warn that pharmaceutical companies are aggressively marketing their products around the globe and finding their way around marketing regulations.

According to Ms Lucas, misuse of pharmaceuticals is a growing concern that has resulted in some older people finding themselves addicted to opioid painkillers and benzodiazepines after being prescribed these drugs by a doctor. 

“Real-time monitoring of opioid and benzodiazepine prescriptions would allow us to track what people are prescribed, how often it’s being prescribed, and how often it’s being dispensed from a pharmacy.”

“This would help identify people who are moving towards dependance before they get too close.”

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