The opioid epidemic that is sweeping the United States is discussed with great regularly by the news media. Typically, the focus of that reporting is on how the epidemic impacts the working class and even the nation’s youth. What most of us haven’t considered is how that epidemic has, and will continue to, impact the nation’s elderly. According to a recently released report based on an in-depth investigation, the nation’s rural elderly are expected to suffer considerably in the years to come as a result of the opioid epidemic.
What the Research Tells Us about the Future
If you had not even considered the impact the opioid crisis is having on the nation’s elderly, you are not alone. Most people assume that the opioid addicts are individuals in their teens, early 20s, or even working years; however, in the recently released publication “Heartache, Pain, and Hope: Rural Communities, Older People, and the Opioid Crisis” by Grantmakers in Aging, we are shown how it is the elderly – specifically the rural elderly — who may be suffering because of the opioid problem in the U.S. The following excerpts from the publication shed some light on another side of the opioid crisis in America:
- There are approximately 10 million people age 65 and older living in rural America today, and one out of four older Americans lives in a small town or other rural area. While people 65 and older do not suffer the highest rate of opioid overdose deaths, they certainly are not immune, and opioid misuse and abuse skews older.
- As a group, older adults often have multiple chronic conditions, take a lot of medications, and have high rates of chronic pain. In rural areas, work-related injuries from physically demanding jobs like coal mining and farming happen often, resulting in chronic pain. The physiology of aging can alter how people react to powerful narcotics, and cultural and generational sensitivities may stop people from seeking help.
- Medicare patients have some of the highest and fastest growing rates of opioid use disorder, including related hospitalizations increasing by 10 percent per year.
- At present, the age group most heavily affected is adults ages 45 to 55, but it is worth noting that unless something changes soon for this age group, they are likely to continue struggling into their sixties and seventies.
- In the words of Nora Volkow, PhD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Baby Boomers’ histories of illicit drug use, and their relatively tolerant attitudes toward it, along with the fact that they now comprise nearly 30 percent of the nation’s population, have raised the stakes on understanding and responding effectively to drug abuse among older adults.
- In tight-knit rural communities, older people are often drawn into the struggles of addicted children, friends, and extended family, which can turn their own lives upside down. The increasing number of grandparents raising the children of addicted parents in “grandfamilies” has paralleled, and is likely driven by, the growth of the epidemic.
- An older adult living in public housing who tries to shelter or support an addicted child or grandchild risks eviction under anti-drug use regulations from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
- An observed rise in elder abuse and financial exploitation is also attributed to the opioid crisis. The Boston Globe reports that, as more adult children with addiction problems are moving back in with their parents, the older people can become easy targets for financial, physical, and emotional abuse, and reports of elder abuse cases in Massachusetts have increased by 37 percent in the past five years.
- Older people who have opioids prescribed by their doctors can inadvertently increase the flow of drugs to others. Ill-advised pill sharing among older people is common, especially in small and lower-income communities.
- Drug diversion and theft happen, too, and the mere presence of powerful drugs can feed the problem by making access all too easy for family members. Seniors may sell their medications, mainly through their grandkids, to supplement their Social Security.
Contact a North Dakota Elder Law Attorney
If you have additional questions or concerns about a North Dakota elder law issue, contact the experienced North Dakota elder law attorneys at German Law by calling 701-738-0060 to schedule an appointment.