Heroin abuse is usually associated with young people, but the reality is that individuals can develop a habit at any age. The number of older people becoming addicted to prescription drugs has increased significantly in recent years, and it is not hard to image how this behaviour can lead to heroin abuse. Elderly people are more at risk from this type of drug, which is sometimes referred to as a hidden epidemic.
Why Do Elderly People Turn to Heroin?
Elderly people do not fit the stereotype of a heroin addict, while there is a general unwillingness in society to recognise that this group is at risk. There is an expectation that older people would ‘know better’ or that they are somehow immune if they have managed to function well in society up until this point.
There are two main categories of elderly heroin user – the hardy survivor and the late starter. The hardy survivor refers to the person who may have started abusing this drug during their teens but has managed to beat the odds to stay alive into old age. There is also a growing number of ‘late starters’ – individuals who don’t even begin to abuse heroin until they are past retirement age.
One of the most common ways that older people fall into heroin addiction is because they start abusing prescription opiates. Heroin (diamorphine) is also type of opiate. What usually happens is the person is prescribed this type of narcotic for severe pain, but starts taking it for the wrong reason – enjoying the feeling of intense relaxation and euphoria is the main one. It does not take long to become addicted to this type of drug. Once the individual is unable to obtain opiates on prescription, the only option is to go to a drug dealer and buy some heroin.
Most people associate becoming older with enjoying having more free time and benefiting from wisdom gained over many years. The reality is there can be many reasons for turning to heroin, including:
- death of a loved one
- fear of getting sick and dying
- being isolated or estranged from family
- having no purpose in life after retirement
- there can be a feeling of entitlement if the person believes they have worked hard all of their life and now is the time to party
- finding it easier to obtain prescription drugs
- being more likely to be prescribed prescription drugs
- the reality of retirement can come as a huge disappointment.
Dangers of Elderly Heroin Abuse
Older people can be more at risks of heroin addiction because:
- getting older means that the body is less able to defend itself against toxic drugs
- it can be easier for older people to hide drug abuse if they are retired and live alone
- they may feel that there is less of a reason for them to stop the abuse (for example, the individual may decide that they are now at the end of their life so there is not much point in changing)
- most assessment tools for addiction are created in such a way that older people are more likely to slip through the net
- elderly people can mistakenly believe that they are too old for rehab – although some facilities do have an age limit of 65
- doctors may be less likely to refer older people to addiction treatment options like rehab
- they would be more at risk of dying from a drug overdose.