People aged 40 to 49 are now more likely to die a drug death than any other age group in the UK, in large part due to an ageing heroin-using population.
108 people aged between 40 and 49 died from drug related deaths in 2016, according to the latest Office for National Statistics data, released today (2 August).
It meant the age group overtook 30 to 39-year-olds as the most vulnerable to drug fatalities. The 30-somethings had topped the list since 2004.
The findings backed up a longer-term trend of drug deaths occurring more frequently among the middle aged and less in the young.
Heroin and other opiates, which are responsible for more than half of all UK drug deaths, are far less popular with millennials than Generation X.
"We have an ageing heroin using population and that cohort is likely to be increasingly vulnerable," said Harry Shapiro from drug and alcohol information campaigners Drugwise.
"If you combine that with the fact that heroin is strong, it makes them physically vulnerable when it comes to heroin overdoses – their bodies can't cope with it," he added.
A surge in heroin deaths at the beginning of this decade has been attributed in part to purer levels of heroin flooding the UK streets from Afghanistan. It has had a deadly effect on the increasingly aged core of heroin user who are likely to also smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol thereby jeapordising their underlying health.
Yesterday's announcement by the National Crime Agency that UK heroin is now being cut with fentanyl and carfentanyl – synthetic opioids up to 10,000 times stronger than street heroin – will do nothing to calm fears about the demographic.
Cocaine related deaths rose to record highs in 2016 – up 167% from 2012. Shapiro said that cocaine was used by a much "broader population of users from their 20s to their 50s".
"There aren't many teenagers taking cocaine because it's simply too expensive. You have to have a reasonable disposable income," he added.
But he said that the introduction of a two-tier cocaine market, which included a premium product of around 70-90% purity was causing havoc on the older population.
"That's clearly a risk snorting cocaine if you have any underlying health problems like high blood pressure or cardiovascular stress," he said.