Keith Richards and Ozzy Osbourne may now be clean, but there are a hidden generation of ageing heroin users in their 50s and 60s who have not been able to kick the habit.
The European drugs agency say there are more than a million problem drug users aged over 40 across the EU, including 122,000 in Britain, who dent the widely held perception that drug use is a youth phenomenon.
"In reality, more older people than ever are reporting experience with drugs at some point in their lives and drug problems have no age limits," said the annual report of the European monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction, published today.
The agency says about a million people across Europe aged 45 to 64 have used cannabis alone in the last year. While they have not "matured out" of drug use, this is far below levels in the US where nearly 10% of the 50 to 59 age group — the 60s generation — regularly use cannabis.
There is a further group of nearly a million older problem drug users, including 122,000 in Britain aged between 35 and 64 who use heroin and crack, who first became dependent in the 1980s and 1990s. Many have tried detox and methadone substitution but have not managed to stop.
Wolfgang Götz, director of the agency, said that while the Rolling Stone, Keith Richards, says he is clean, many older drug users face a life of repeated overdoses with chronic health implications. They are prematurely experiencing the health problems faced by people 20 years older. Denmark and Germany are among countries developing specialist nursing or retirement homes for older drug users .
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Million plus in Europe's 60s generation of ageing drug addicts, report finds