Treatment for Opioid Use and Outcomes in Older Adults: A Systematic Literature Review
A new study published in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal focuses on an often-neglected topic – opioid use in older adults. This systematic literature review, Treatment for Opioid Use and Outcomes in Older Adults, included 76 papers on the topic of opioid use disorder, including misuse of prescription medication, and any interventions.
The researchers found that there were unclear definitions of “old” when conducting a review of existing literature in 2015 and a slant towards research focusing on the use of alcohol and prescription medications.
The team found a need for a review of existing literature due to increased rates of older drug users with many presenting for treatment for the first time when they have reached the ages of 50-70. This goes against a common belief that drug use and problematic drug use tapers off as people age. The study identified that the number of mature drug users has been “increasing internationally for the last 40 years”.
An important note from the research is the increase in older adults in the global population and with it the increase in the population of older drug users.
The paper also illuminates evidence of factors contributing to the increased number of older drug users which existing research suggests will be multifactor. One key development experienced by the 1950s “baby boomers” was an increased availability of drugs and an increased trend for illicit drug use amongst the demographic. There has also been an increase in the general life expectancy of the population and developments in medicine and treatment which include “improved access to healthcare, harm reduction and drug treatment services”. The effect of these factors is increased “longevity” of people who take drugs.
The harms resulting from problematic opioid are also reported to be higher than from other drugs. This can be noted with the increased focus of public health concern internationally for emerging “opioid epidemics” which are being witnessed in North America and many other parts of the world.
Some key findings from the analysis of existing literature showed older adults accessing treatment to find more positive outcomes and for treatment to be most effective for older women.