Hospital drug admissions for over-50s up 50%, report shows
The number of over-50s admitted to hospitals in Wales after taking drugs has increased by about 50% since 2011, a report has shown.
Drug and alcohol abuse among older adults is "increasing rapidly", authors warned.
The Welsh Government advisory panel on substance misuse report said there was a "hidden problem" of medication addiction.
Public Health Minister Rebecca Evans called the issue a "cause for concern".
Nearly 900 over-50-year-olds were poisoned after taking illicit drugs last year but alcohol admissions have remained stable, the report said.
Services need to adapt to the needs of older adults, it added, and called for more specialist older adults' drug services.
Interim panel chairman Richard Ives said: "The proportion of older adults in the population is increasing rapidly and so is the number of older adults with substance use problems.
"Services must respond to this social change and need to be flexible in providing effective treatment for older clients."
With chronic diseases and long-term conditions more frequent in older adults, the use of multiple medicines - often over a long time - is common and many patients become dependent, authors said.
More than four-fifths (87%) of people in Wales aged 65-plus reported regularly taking prescribed medicines for a year or more.
The number of over-50s seen by drug and alcohol treatment services has increased by more than a quarter in the last five years, to 3,515 in 2015-16.
According to the report, more than 16% had problematic drug misuse, with heroin the most commonly reported illicit drug.
Late onset drug users typically began to misuse drugs later in life, often triggered by stressful life events including retirement, marital breakdown, social isolation or bereavement, it said.
Mr Ives said: "In one way we are a victim of some success, as we have seen a reduction in the numbers of opiate-related deaths and those who are still using opiates are getting older.
"They are getting to the stage where the drug is taking its toll."
Ms Evans said she recognised the "challenges" and added: "Levels of alcohol and drug misuse - including illicit drugs and prescription and over-the-counter medication - is a cause of concern.
"The Welsh Government, together with Public Health Wales, is taking forward a range of actions to support this group of people, including implementing a new treatment framework specifically targeted at older substance misusers."
The panel are due to report on the misuse of over the counter and prescription drugs later this year.