“Opioid Abuse and Seniors” – ForeverYoung.org

by Judith A. Rucki

“If you think the opioid epidemic is only affecting younger folks, think again. According to a report in Psychiatric Times, while opioid use disorders are more common in younger patients, ‘prevalence among the elderly is growing, and misuse poses unique risks in the geriatric population.’

The informational web guide Addiction Center concurs. ‘Drug and alcohol abuse among the elderly is a rapidly growing health problem in the United States.’ Adding, ‘Seventeen percent of people in the United States over 65 years old have abused prescription medications, according to the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.’

“The Center on Addiction states, ‘A growing number of older Americans are becoming addicted to prescription opioid drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin. While drug-related deaths have increased dramatically in all age groups, the greatest percentage increase has been among adults ages fifty-five to sixty-four.’

“So, what can we do to protect our loved ones and ourselves from falling victim to this epidemic? We can start by acquainting ourselves with potential triggers for addiction in our senior population.” Click here to continue reading this article at ForeverYoung.com. 

Below is an extraction of a 2017 article at Medium.com describing opioid addiction in a Pennsylvania County. The article reinforces the impact of opioid addiction on “more and more senior citizens.”

“Yet, it’s not just the county’s youngest who are most vulnerable to the secondary threats of the opioid crisis.

Opioids’ oldest victims

“More and more Butler County senior citizens are being robbed of their golden years, and the sinister secondary threats of the opioid crisis are increasingly to blame.

“So said the county’s Area Agency on Aging Director Beth Herold, speaking at a county-wide opioid coalition meeting this fall.

“The opioid epidemic’s threat to Butler County’s oldest residents comes in many forms.

“Above all, their lives are at stake.


“In area where prescription opioids remain abundant, older people remain at risk of accidentally overdosing on the very medication designed to ease their pain. Indeed, overdose deaths recorded here have touched virtually every demographic, including those 60 and up, the county coroner reported.

“Other threats to seniors from the opioid crisis are much more subtle, unsuspecting, even sinister.

“Medicine cabinet conundrum

“Danger lurks in the many brown prescription pill bottles stuffed into the medicine cabinets of many grandparents across the county. The very origins of the opioid crisis are blamed on over-prescribing potent opioids like Oxy Contin.

“As such, an older person’s medicine cabinet can be a mini pharmacy. Far too many teen- and twenty-something grandkids have been dipping into these pain-pill stashes. Indeed, a family member’s prescriptions often serve as the first source for a young person’s experimental flirtations with such substances.

“This is why most counties, including Butler, are mounting aggressive pill-collection drives, attempting to gather up all these leftover pain pills and get them out of circulation before they temp a teen to experiment or supply a family member’s full-blown addiction.

“Just as often, older people can become prey for family members and other acquaintances who are already addicts.

“In low speaking tones, Herold laid out all the appalling, yet often unpreventable, ways her office has witnessed older people being taken advantage of by so-called loved ones feeding their addiction.

“Bank accounts have been drained, all so a family member can keep putting a heroin needle in their arm, Herold said. Credit cards and loans have been opened in the elderly person’s name in what amounts to identity theft by a family member.

“Her office even has heard from elderly clients duped into having second mortgages taken on their life-long homes. By the time the bank looks to foreclose, the money is gone and the older homeowner, once set for life, is faced with losing their home.

“Finally, some paid caregivers who are supposed to make an elderly person’s life easier and more comfortable have been known to raid their client’s opioid pain medications, instead, Herold said.

“To cover their tracks and replace what they have stolen, these dishonest nursing home staffers or home health aides have dyed or painted over-the-counter pills to make them look like the purloined opioids.

“Only, up against real pain, they are anything but.

“The elderly person is left to suffer with a placebo, while the sinister staffer pockets the prescription opioids, either for themselves or to sell at enormous profit on the black market.

“Misery’s company

“In all, the opioid epidemic is being blamed for nearly doubling the number of elderly protection services cases in Butler County. Such cases now run about 70 a month, according to Herold.

“Yet in many instances, there is little her agency can do to help.

“Often, family members who are addicts have talked their way into living with the older person, who otherwise would be alone.

“In other instances, many older people are serving as primary caregivers for their grandchildren because the kids’ own parents are addicted. Either way, the elderly person has invited opioid addiction — and all its thieving, conniving ways — into his or her life.

“The outcome is rarely good.

“Addicts who have talked their way into an older person’s life can hold the upper hand on county Agency on Aging staffers in vying for the elderly person’s ear. Meanwhile, the addicted parent of a child staying with a grandparent now has good reason to come around — ostensibly to see their kid, but often to see what possessions, money or pills they can pilfer to feed their heroin habits.

“Either way, Agency on Aging caseworkers are at a distinct disadvantage in attempting to warn about the potential financial and physical risks these situations present to their elderly clients. The potent mix of blood ties and emotion too often trumps good advice.

“Simply put, the aging person would rather have the family member’s company, even when opioids are involved.

“For them, it’s better than being alone. Consider it misery’s company.

“Meanwhile, there are inherent dangers for Agency on Aging staff when visiting the homes of elderly clients where addicts also have access. The addicted family members often resent the outside intervention to protect the elderly person. Also, drug activity, including drug deals, can be going on right in the residence.

“These days, Herold said her caseworkers routinely request sheriff’s deputy protection when making home visits under such circumstances.

“Alas, no intervention can succeed unless the elderly person agrees to be helped. All too often, they do not.

“‘It’s very hard to sit back and watch people make bad decisions,’ Herold told the coalition. ‘But we have to wait for the train to wreck. Their fear of losing the individual is so great, they will enable those individuals to take money from them. We see it over and over again. People have lost homes.’” – This is extracted from this 2017 Medium.com article: “Chapter 2: The epidemic’s innocent victims.”



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