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Substance use disorder issue for older adults

A gentleman fell on ice. He spent several hours at the emergency room to assure that he was not seriously injured. The injuries proved to be minor but painful. The ER doctor prescribed medication for the pain. The man requested Vicodin, an opioid. His wife worried about him taking the medication. Why wouldn’t he use ibuprofen or just tough out some of the pain? Didn’t he know how dangerous the drug was? Addiction and overdose associated with opioids were problems across the country. He insisted he knew what he was doing, that he would not become addicted. He took the medication until it was gone. No problems. And the matter was forgotten.

The man may have thought his wife was being paranoid, but in reality, her concerns were legitimate. Substance use disorder among the age 50-plus population is expected to double this year over the 2.8 million older adults with the disorder in 2006.

Substance use disorder is one of the fastest growing health problems in the country, advises SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration).

Reportedly, the problem of substance use disorder in the United States is “underestimated, under-identified, under-diagnosed, and under-treated.” Why?

Older adults are going through bodily changes related to the aging process. Some of the conditions they are dealing with include diabetes, congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, memory problems, to name a few. They are under a higher risk of falling, of getting around on their own, of being able to manage their medications properly. Add substance misuse to the mix and the problems multiply.

Alcohol is the drug of choice for older adults, it is reported, and it may be the most damaging because the individual’s body already is experiencing changes to their physical health and thinking abilities. The 50-plus crowd has a lower alcohol tolerance and an increased reaction to prescription and over-the-counter medications. Using things like aspirin, acetaminophen, sleeping pills, pain medications and cough syrup with alcohol can be dangerous, even deadly.

Today’s older adults are less likely to ask for help. They may be ashamed to admit they have a substance use problem. The older adult’s adult children may not be supportive of seeking treatment because they are embarrassed and it’s much easier to sweep it under the rug and ignore it. Stigma is an ugly word and has not been eradicated yet. Another ugly word is ageism which is prejudice or discrimination because of a person’s age. There are people who actually believe that older people are not worth the use of valuable health care resources because they are old.

You can help your health care provider to assist your good health by talking with him or her about your current health and your needs. When you go to your appointments and the doctor provides prescriptions, more than likely you are asked if you have questions. Do you ask questions or just accept what your doctor says because he or she is the expert? When you go to the pharmacy to get your medications, do you read the information that is given to you about the medication or do you just trust that it’s for your good health? Do you know what to watch for in the way of side effects?

And if you have a substance use problem, there are people available to help you.

Addiction has no address, but Family Recovery Center does. For more information about the education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and related behavioral issues, contact the agency at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, info@familyrecovery.org. Visit the web site at www.familyrecovery.org. FRC is funded, in part, by United Way Services of Northern Columbiana County.

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