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Guidance For Treating Older Heroin Addicts

Royal College Of Psychiatrists:  Specific Guidance For Treating Older Heroin Addicts

July 4, 2008   Specific guidance is needed for the treatment of older heroin addicts over the age of 45, a new study has found. They should be given greater priority in terms of screening, assessment, treatment and mental health service delivery, since the evidence indicates that when they engage in treatment they do as well as, if not better than, younger addicts.

There is a growing awareness of substance misuse in older people. However, since their symptoms may be subtle and easily missed by health professionals, the prevalence and complications of addiction in this group are underestimated.

The researchers undertook a retrospective record analysis of the case of 20 older heroin-dependent patients being prescribed substitution medication (methadone) at a specialist addictions clinic in Stoke-on-Tren. (This is in the U.K.)

The typical patient profile was a single, white Caucasian male aged between 45 and 55, who was poorly educated, unemployed, living alone and involved in crime. He started using heroin at an average age of 29 and continued to use it for 18 years.

Chronic health problems were common. 67% of the group studied had Hepatitis C. 40% has self-harmed by means of an overdose, 40% had depression, 35% experienced pain, 25% had memory loss, and 25% suffered from respiratory problems.

Half received methadone maintenance treatment for at least three years. This resulted in crime reduction, less heroin use, and no intravenous use.

The researchers conclude that older substance misuser’s are a vulnerable group with special health needs. Addiction treatment guidelines should included specific advice on the treatment of older patients, who respond well.

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