International Day of Older Persons: INCB highlights the hidden epidemic of drug use among older persons

VIENNA, 1 October 2021 - On the occasion of the International Day of Older Persons, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is highlighting the hidden epidemic of drug use among older people.

As the world population ages, there is an increased vulnerability to drug use and drug dependence among older people. Use of pain relievers, tranquilizers, benzodiazepines and sedatives by older people has increased over the past decade. However, data is scarce, even in countries which conduct regular drug use surveys, since such surveys have generally not covered people over 65 years old.

Drug-related deaths among older people have been increasing, as has the number of older people receiving treatment for drug use problems. Older people with substance use problems also face unique age-related challenges, such as isolation or physical difficulties.

Just six months ago, INCB published its 2020 Annual Report, which included a thematic chapter titled " A hidden epidemic: the use of drugs among older persons". That chapter analyses the problem and makes a set of recommendations that are directed to governments and international and regional organizations, but that are also applicable to civil society.

As a first step to counteracting this dangerous trend, INCB recommends increasing research into drug use disorders among older people, for example by including people aged over 65 in drug use surveys and by utilizing prescription monitoring systems. INCB draws attention to the need for integrated, holistic and age-appropriate care, and calls on governments to improve access to such services and to use existing evidence-based prevention strategies to prevent the stigmatization of older persons who use drugs.

INCB also urges governments to ensure that health services are able to screen older persons for drug use and ensure that these services and evidence-based programmes are culturally adapted for older persons from varying societies and backgrounds. Any policies developed for older persons who use drugs should be underpinned by the principles of independence, participation, care, self-fulfilment and dignity, as set out in the United Nations Principles for Older Persons, and should be developed using Active Ageing: A Policy Framework and the Global Strategy and Action Plan on Ageing and Health.

Recognizing the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health and wellbeing of older persons, INCB calls on governments to take urgent action to address this hidden epidemic of drug use and contribute to a more positive future for one of the most marginalized groups of society: older persons who use drugs.


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