Senior Drug Addiction- Part One 

Joy Hollowell

Maine is aging faster than any other state, with 16 percent of our population 65 years and older.We also hold the title for the highest number of residents seeking treatment for opiate addiction.When you picture someone addicted to prescription pills, typically a senior citizen doesn’t come to mind.But there are an alarming number of older people in Maine who are battling this very addiction.Experts say it’s not so much about abuse, but more about the misuse of the drugs.Joy Hollowell has a special report on why a combination of the two is cause for concern.====”On average over the course of a year, someone 65 years of age or older takes 20 or more different prescription drugs,” says Len Kaye, Director of the UMaine Center on Aging.Mixing them with alcohol or homeopathic remedies, the wrong combination of pills, or even taking them at the wrong time, can lead a senior to become addicted to drugs.”Unfortunately, older adults probably are at greatest risk of not using drugs as directed because they don’t ask all the questions that they need to ask when they see their doctor,” says Kaye.Certain prescriptions, according to Kaye, like sleeping pills or anti-anxiety medications, wave a red flag.”This class of Benzodiazepines is really a group of drugs that we should be very, very worried about because older adults are prescribed them left and right and you really shouldn’t be on them for long periods of time, longer than 8 weeks,” he says. “And folks are on them for years at a time.””We’re estimating between 10% and 20% of seniors over the age of 65 are addicted to either drugs, or alcohol or both,” says Lee White with the Eastern Area Agency on Aging.White says pain is a very real symptom for older Mainers.”There can be losses, there can be challenges, there can be loneliness,” says White. “And sometimes, there’s pain. And so the basis often times when dealing with addiction is, what do you do with your pain?”According to the State Office of Substance Abuse, those 55 and older make up 9% of Mainers who misuse prescription drugs. “This is really about an access issue,” says Guy Cousins, Director of the State Office of Substance Abuse. “So any age group is vulnerable to that.”Experts say it’s easy to miss the signs of senior addiction. It’s not uncommon for older people to see several doctors at the same time, and symptoms of addiction can be misconstrued as early signs of dementia.”Older adults who misuse or who are dependent on drugs, are far less visible than individuals who abuse alcohol or drugs,” says Kaye. “They are less likely to be involved in legal complications resulting from taking these drugs.”Even family members can be in the dark.”It’s an epidemic now,” warns Kaye, “and it probably will be more so in the years ahead, because guess what, we have 76 million or so baby boomers now entering into retirement and those are folks who have consumed more alcohol on average, and in particular, taken more prescription drugs than any other previous generation of older adults.”====There is help available for seniors, care givers or family members who are concerned about addiction.Office of Substance Abuse Information and Resource Center 1-800-499-0027 Emergency Hotline 1-888-568-1112Eastern Area Agency on Aging 1-800-432-7812