Older people with drug problems in Scotland: a mixed methods study

First published: 09/05/2019 | Last updated: May 20th, 2019


The population of people with a drug problem is ageing and services need to adjust appropriately. This study aimed to identify health-care and social support needs of older people with a drug problem (OPDP) in Scotland.


Face-to-face interviews collected quantitative and qualitative data from a cross-sectional sample of 123 OPDP, over 35 years. Data collection was undertaken by four peer researchers in a purposive sample of non-NHS services across Scotland and covered demography, drug using history, health, service use and relative importance of different issues. Quantitative data was entered into SPSS for descriptive analysis. Thematic analysis of qualitative data was undertaken on 30 interviews, purposively selected.


Participants were 35-57 years old and 75.6% (n=93) were male. Of 123 participants 95.1% were on welfare benefits, 78.9% lived alone and 91.1% had been homeless at some time in their lives. The majority had been in treatment several times, 75.1% had overdosed at some time in their lives, 95.1% suffered from depression, 88.6% anxiety and 52.8% chronic pain. Digestive and respiratory disease were also prevalent. The majority (86.2%) would use mental health support services, and 82.9% substitute prescribing, in the future. Mental health problems was rated as the most important issue, followed by physical health problems. Qualitative data found stigma, isolation and loneliness, the need to talk and being older and wiser were recurring themes. OPDP could feel ‘ forgotten about ‘ in treatment.


This is a vulnerable, ageing cohort, at high risk of premature mortality if multi-morbidity is not addressed.


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Dr Catriona Matheson