The increased health risks become particularly hard to assess in connection with abused drugs because of the ethical bind it imposes on physicians. If a patient reports drug use, a doctor should include that fact in the patient’s notes because of its potential effects on future treatment. But despite privacy protections under the law, many physicians hesitate to do so for fear of insurance and legal complications. For those reasons (and perhaps others), medical personnel are reluctant to question their patients’ drug use, according to Dowling and his colleagues. Consequently, serious problems may go untreated.
In spite of what can be inferred about the effects of drugs on the aged, relatively little has been studied systematically. That lack of attention traces directly to the traditional—and now demonstrably false—assumption that the elderly do not abuse drugs, particularly illicit drugs. But the nation may soon discover that the pig will move more painfully through the python than anyone could have imagined.
Editor's Note: This story was originally printed with the title "When I'm Sixty Four"