Self-poisoning among the elderly likely to become a “growing problem”: report

File photo: iStock
 File photo: iStock

Concerns around over-prescribing of drugs, and deteriorating mental health among elderly Tasmanians, have been voiced by health groups.

The comments follow a report predicting self-poisoning among older people will likely become a “growing problem” as the population ages. The Self-poisoning by older Australians: a cohort study report, published by the Medical Journal of Australia, found most self-poisoning was intentional.

Opioids were most commonly associated with fatal self-poisoning among the elderly, the report found. 

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president, Tasmanian GP Dr Bastian Seidel, said too many medications were being provided to the elderly.

“The prescribing of opioids and benzodiazepine has now become a public health issue in Tasmania and Australia that we need to address as a matter of urgency,” Dr Seidel said. 

The study focused on self-poisoning by people aged over 65 in regional NSW over a 26-year period.

“Hopelessness and suicidality frequently increase with age, and depression is strongly associated with suicidality in older people,” the report said. 

Mental Health Council of Tasmania chief executive Connie Digolis said she wasn’t surprised by the report, and prevention was particularly relevant to Tasmania as it has Australia’s oldest population. 

Ms Digolis said mental health among older people was frequently overlooked as focus turned to their physical state or decline.

“I think we all fall into a trap of saying, ‘well, they’re just getting old’,” Ms Digolis said.  

“There’s no question that there’s a lot we can do in regards to older people in our state.”

Ms Digolis said a holistic approach to mental health, with the mental health sector working with other health practitioners, could help ensure elderly Tasmanians’ needs were met. 

Health Minister Michael Ferguson said the need to support older Tasmanians was acknowledged in the Tasmanian Suicide Prevention Strategy and the Rethink Mental Health Plan. 

“Tasmania’s Drugs and Poisons Information System Online Remote Access is an Australian-first, real-time monitoring system that has been crucial in combatting opioid-related issues,” Mr Ferguson said. 

“Since its introduction, the average number of annual deaths from opioid prescription drug overdoses has fallen from 25 to 17.”

If you need help, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636

For information on mental health among older people, visit the beyondblue online resource