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Seniorgram: Sending a Message on Senior Issues

Local elders are hit hard by the opioid crisis

There is an epidemic in our communities impacting people of all ages regardless of class, race or education level: opioid abuse. And elders are particularly vulnerable.

A growing number of older Americans are becoming addicted to prescription drugs such as OxyContin and Vicodin, both of which are classified as opioids. Elders have an increased likelihood of experiencing pain and physical illness and are prescribed these highly addictive pain relievers more frequently than younger people. Now recognized as a serious issue in the medical community, organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working with healthcare professionals to consider safer pain management options for elders in particular.

Addiction to opioids is only one of many ways in which older adults are impacted by the opioid epidemic.

The increasing number of grandparents raising the children of parents who are addicted or supporting an adult child or grandchild who is addicted can be directly attributed to this epidemic. There has been an observed rise in elder abuse and financial exploitation also associated to the opioid crisis as more adult children with addiction issues are moving back in with their parents, who can then become targets for financial, physical and emotional abuse. Over the last five years the number of elder abuse reports in Massachusetts has increased by 37% due in no small part to this epidemic.

Elders are unwittingly supplying those seeking easy access to opioids as well. Medication theft by individuals seeking opportunistic situations has, not surprisingly, escalated significantly in recent years. Caregivers and family members alike are targeting older adults, who often have supplies of opioid painkillers in their medicine cabinets. We know that most incidents of prescription theft are committed by someone the victim knows well and who has easy access to the home.

We want to encourage elders in our community to educate themselves about the medicines in their home, to properly dispose of any opioids no longer being taken and carefully secure those in current use. Speak with your physician about your medications. Inventory your medicines. Lock or otherwise secure your home and your medications to reduce the risk of medication theft.

Our rural communities have dedicated significant resources targeted towards tackling this problem. Locally, the Opioid Task Force can be credited with spearheading initiatives, raising awareness and looking at the underlying causes contributing to this epidemic. Guidance and resources are available. Please contact us and ask to speak with a resource specialist. We can steer you in the right direction to get assistance for yourself or someone you know.