Legacy of the ’Trainspotting Generation’ – Sheffield sees big increase in use of hard drugs among middle-aged

The use of hard drugs among middle-aged people in Sheffield is soaring, figures from Public Health England show.

Friday, 10th May 2019, 16:03 pm
Updated Monday, 20th May 2019, 21:44 pm

Between 2010-11 and 2016-17, the number of people in the 35-64 year old age group using heroin and crack cocaine in the city went up by 36 per cent.

This means there are 737 more middle-aged hard drug users in Sheffield now than there were at the beginning of the decade.

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Sheffield fares slightly better than England as a whole where hard drug use among middle-aged people has increased by 39 per cent over the same period.

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But regionally, the picture is even worse, with 63 per cent more middle-aged heroin and crack users now than there were in 2010-11 in the Yorkshire and the Humber region.

In Sheffield there are more than 4,000 users of heroin and crack cocaine, equating to 11 users per thousand people.

Of these, 2766 are in the 35-64 year old age group, more than two-thirds of the total.

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In younger age groups the picture is very different, with 30 per cent fewer people taking heroin and crack in the 15-34 age group now than in 2010-11.

Experts believe the legacy of Britain’s heroin and crack epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s is behind a rise in the number of middle-aged drug users.

Before the late 1970s, heroin had been used mainly by a small number of affluent people in London.

But when a new supply of cheap heroin opened up between Asia and the UK, the number of young users - dubbed the ‘Trainspotting generation’ - soared to the hundreds of thousands.

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This coincided with the development of crack cocaine, a particularly addictive form of the drug which can be smoked.

Those who became addicted at the time are now ageing.

Charities have warned that drug abuse in later life can lead to higher risks of overdosing, as well as other major health issues like lung problems and Hepatitis C.

Greg Fell, director of public health for Sheffield Council said: “The fact that the majority of people in treatment in Sheffield for heroin and crack use are in the 35-64 age bracket shows that our treatment services are reaching those who most need them.

Greg Fell, director of public health at Sheffield Council.

“These people are not necessarily new to using these drugs but people who have lived longer because of the availability of and improvements in treatment.

“Some of them will have been in treatment long term and some may have engaged with treatment on and off over a number of years. We always welcome people back to treatment if they are using drugs.”

“The opiate service based at The Fitzwilliam Centre provides an open access service. There are no waiting times to access this support and people who go to this service asking for help are assessed immediately. The centre contact number is 0114 3030500.”

At Ben’s Centre, a substance misuse centre for vulnerable people in Sheffield city centre, one former heroin and crack user who preferred to remain anonymous said he had been using since the early 1980s.

The user, who is now 53, has not used heroin since his birthday last August but regularly takes a methadone prescription.

He said: “I suffer from shaking and schizophrenia but I am lucky I have not suffered from many physical side effects. A mate of mine just had to have his leg amputated.

Daryl Bishop, project development manager at Ben's Centre.

“A lot of people die from it obviously and some say enough is enough but I am sticking to my methadone prescription at the moment.”

The man said that while services like Ben’s Centre had been really helpful to him, rehabilitation services in the city still left a lot to be desired.

He said: “Places like this have helped me enormously. I have been coming here 20 years and I haven’t got a bad word to say about them.”

“But being put into the Burbage Ward for a wash and a brush up is not really enough I don’t think. People need proper rehab of months or even years.”

Ben’s Centre’s project development manager Daryl Bishop said the big increase in heroin and crack use came about after the rave scene exploded in the late 80s and early 90s.

“A lot of people got into party drugs like ecstasy, and - like a lot of drugs - when you get into the highs and lows of them some people wanted to go a bit further. At that time heroin was the main thing.

“The thing with heroin is that there are real physical and mental addiction problems that come with it. You will do anything to get your hands on it and you run the risk of overdosing.

“For this group the main factor in them still being here is they have been doing it safely. Some clients we see might wait until payday to buy some or not use as much as they used to use and top up on methadone at other times.

“It does have a massive effect on your life because it is such a strong addiction and it takes a lot of graft for users and professionals to get them off it.”

However, Daryl said the fact that older users now outnumber younger users might hide the fact that younger users are not accessing services as much.

“Younger users might not be tired of it yet in the same way the older users are and they are probably more physically able cope with it as well,” he said.

And he also hoped that public opinion towards people who struggle with substance misuse issues would change with more understanding of the problems they go through.

“Vulnerable people in this sort of situation have got all sorts of issues that they are struggling with or trying to escape,” he said.

“20 or 30 years of addiction is a massive thing that not many people would take gracefully and we need to give those people help rather than just condemn them.”