Double Jeopardy: Older Injecting Opioid Users in Australia

In keeping with general population trends, the ageing nature of opioid injectors has become apparent in recent years. This stands in stark contrast to the youth focus of our National Drug Strategy 2010-15 and its emphasis on early intervention and drug prevention. Similarly, a strong youth focus is reflected in the body of literature about illicit drug use generally. The association between drug use and death and destruction is so pronounced in popular culture that it may well come as a surprise to many that illicit drug users have a future and an old age to look forward to at all. Equally, many drug users, who did not anticipate or prepare for old age and retirement, are also surprised to find themselves still here and advancing in years. In all, this tendency to associate illicit drug use with young people has diverted attention away from older cohorts of drug users and as a result, little is known about ageing in relation to illicit drug use. 

The idea for AIVL’s latest discussion paper: “Double Jeopardy: Older Injecting Opioid Users in Australia” was first suggested by members of AIVL’s constituency, many of whom are reaching older age themselves. As soon as we were alerted to this emerging demographic and the changing composition of the drug using community, AIVL was keen to draw attention to the issue and to explore the needs and concerns of older drug users. “Double Jeopardy” primarily sets out to document the existence of a cohort of injecting drug users aged 40 years or more in Australia and to estimate the possible size of this group. It also aims to explore the experience of advancing age from a drug user perspective and to examine the interrelationship between ageing and illicit drug use. The concurrent trajectories of ageing and illicit drug use can combine to create a set of unique outcomes for older opioid users – resulting for many in a state of “double jeopardy”. The emergence of an older demographic of opioid users is a recent phenomenon, which poses many questions, many of which are yet to be adequately answered. AIVL trusts this new discussion paper will open the door and encourage further interest and inquiry into this emerging issue in Australia.