Historically, issues relating to problem substance use among older people have received little attention, and have only recently been recognised.

A literature review of relevant material was conducted in November 2015 to assess current outcome research among older adults treated for opioid dependence. Multiple electronic databases were searched and results were supplemented by grey literature, library and online searches, and relevant references within selected articles. Retrieved articles were assessed for relevance against the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Results were reviewed to identify major findings and recommendations.

A total of 76 titles were included in the review. Most research conducted on older adults involves alcohol and prescription medications. Older drug users are growing in number and have a unique profile, with many presenting for treatment for the first time aged 50–70 years. Findings reveal (1) opioid treatment numbers are decreasing, however the average age of treatment admissions is increasing, (2) there is no consensus on what old is (3) two distinct types of older opioid substance users exist (early/late onset), (4) older clients achieve better treatment outcomes than younger counterparts, and (5) older women achieve better treatment outcomes than men.

Findings suggest that little is known about treatment outcomes among older people. Problematic drug use (of which opioids make up the largest proportion) had been incorrectly assumed to end as patients age. Defining an age limit for ‘older’ is important. Addiction and healthcare services must anticipate and prepare for increased demand by this group.

Anne Marie Carew, Catherine Comiskey
Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 1 January 2018