Monday, 10 March 2014

DrugScope launches new briefing on older people’s substance misuse on behalf of the Recovery Partnership

Gemma Lousley, DrugScope’s Policy and Engagement Officer, reports back from the launch event

At the end of February, DrugScope launched It’s about time: Tackling substance misuse in older people, a new briefing published on behalf of the Recovery Partnership. The launch event took place at the Guildhall, in London, with around 50 attendees from substance misuse and older people’s services, as well as commissioners and policy makers.

Several key issues were raised at the event. Marcus Roberts, DrugScope’s Chief Executive, noted that there is a growing awareness of substance misuse as a significant issue for older people, which the report aims to develop. Nevertheless, many of the specialist services visited during the research process for the briefing face funding problems; the majority don’t receive ‘mainstream’ drug and alcohol money, but are supported by independent funders, with fixed-term financing. Sustainable funding needs to be found so that these services can develop their expertise and provision, and to enable them to have a lasting impact.

Following a comprehensive presentation from Dr Sarah Wadd on the scale and nature of substance misuse among older people, Karen Black from Bristol Drugs Project (BDP), which runs the ‘50 Plus Crowd’ – one of the projects featured in the briefing – picked up on the importance of sustainable funding as she highlighted the levels of demand now being placed on the service. She explained that socially-oriented provision, including activities and groups, has played a key role in drawing older people into the service, but noted that many service users now need a higher level of ongoing support, including one-to-one keywork.

She also explained that the outcomes the service works to are not focused on ‘successful completions’ and recovery, but on improved levels of health and wellbeing. In the new ‘public health’ landscape, this should have a particular resonance, and is an opportunity to be built upon with commissioners and decision makers.

Focusing on the loneliness and isolation that some older people experience, which can be an underlying cause of substance misuse, Emma Spragg and Pam Creaven from Age UK noted that there can be a level of acceptance around this among both statutory and voluntary services – a belief that ‘nothing can be done’. While challenging this, they pointed, too, to the particular difficulties of addressing social isolation among older people in the current climate of austerity, when services in the community such as day centres are rapidly disappearing.

Emma and Pam also highlighted that the commissioning of domiciliary care for older people needs to be rethought: if carers are working to fifteen-minute appointments, how will they be able to identify substance misuse issues among those they are working with, and provide support around this?  

Finally, Mike Kelleher from Public Health England (PHE) noted that the report coincides with a number of PHE’s key priorities nationally, including addressing dementia, and reducing preventable deaths and ill health associated with alcohol misuse and smoking. He also highlighted that, while we are now in the era of localism, PHE can support the development of this agenda through national guidance and frameworks, and PHE regional centres have a key role to play in supporting commissioning and so the development of services.

There is a real momentum around this issue at the moment, and DrugScope will be working to ensure that real gains are made. After all, it’s about time.

For more information about the report, please contact Gemma Lousley, Policy and Engagement Officer, at

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