Pensioners in their 90s are ending up in hospital for cocaine abuse, shocking new figures reveal.
Fourteen nonagenarians were admitted last year with 'mental and behavioural disorders' as a result of taking the drug – up from four a decade ago.
More than 12,564 people of all ages were hospitalised for mental-health reasons linked to cocaine use. But over the past few years, an increasing number have also been drawing their state pensions as existing drug-users grow older.
According to NHS figures, 67 people aged 60 and over were hospitalised for mental-health reasons because of cocaine use in 2011/12. That has rocketed to 414 in 2020/21.
Professor Adam Winstock, a consultant psychiatrist and addiction medicine specialist and founder of the Global Drug Survey, said: 'One thing these figures tell us is that drug-users in their 80s and above are pretty unusual.
'They are too old to be part of the rave scene [dance music of the 1990s] so they may represent a hidden population who avoided identification and were able to use drugs over a long period of time and still be alive, suggesting they used them in a moderate and more controlled fashion.
'Saying that, 80-year-old hearts are not designed for cocaine, which accelerates atherosclerosis [hardening and narrowing of arteries] and causes constriction of blood vessels supplying the heart, placing people at risk of heart attacks.
'These individuals are likely to be rather unique in other ways and should not be held up to suggest the use of cocaine among older people is safe. Generally it's the young and the old who are most vulnerable to drug-related harms. Old organs are best left unstressed by substances, with a few exceptions.'
Pensioners in their 90s are ending up in hospital for cocaine abuse, shocking new figures reveal
Evidence suggests that older drug-users are more prone to early-onset dementia and other illnesses that normally develop much later in life.
Overdoses can be more likely as users get older because of the false confidence that comes with decades of using a substance.
Older drug-users are also thought to be more reluctant to seek help for addiction because they feel ashamed. A 2019 report by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs recommended that staff at specialist community-based drug-treatment centres be trained to deal with older patients.
Users of opiates – illegal drugs such as heroin and some over- the-counter painkillers – aged over 40 being treated has almost tripled, from about 26,000 in 2005/06 to some 75,000 in 2017/18 – while the number being treated for opiate problems under the age of 30 has fallen from around 55,000 to about 13,000 between 2009 and 2019.
'An ageing, opiate-using cohort currently dominates demand for substance-misuse services and this will continue into the future,' concluded the report, which was sent to Sajid Javid, who was then Home Secretary.
According to the charity UK Rehab, the isolation that comes with old age, death of a loved one or fear of getting ill and dying are all factors in drug addiction in later life.
Rachel Britton, director of pharmacy at addiction charity We Are With You, added: 'It's not surprising that people of different ages who live with mental-health conditions such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress may turn to cocaine and similar substances to drive short-term elation and euphoria. They are simply trying to ease negative feelings.
'However, due to the nature of these substances, distressing feelings can actually get worse, with both rebound anxiety and paranoia being linked to coming off drugs like cocaine.'
Last month, The Mail on Sunday revealed that cocaine use is spiralling out of control among Britain's middle classes, with addiction referrals soaring by 300 per cent during the Covid pandemic.
Jan Gerber, who runs the Paracelsus Recovery clinic, warned that the 'dark corners of the web' have made it easier for people to find dealers who will deliver drugs to their door – with the result that usage levels are at an all-time high among professionals.