Substance abuse among seniors on the rise

Windsor Genova – Fourth Estate Cooperative Contributor

Santa Ana, CA, United States (4E) – Alcohol and drug abuse among the senior population of the U.S. is worsening as the number of older patients in South Florida’s substance addiction treatment facilities grows and the number of 65 and up Medicare beneficiaries who were prescribed with addictive painkillers rose by 30 percent to 8.5 million from 2007 to 2012.

Stacey Cook-Hawk, assistant vice president for outpatient service at SalusCare in Fort Myers, admits that the problem is growing as boomers retire and become a significant portion of the population. The signs are obvious.

Treatment centers in Florida’s Lee and Collier counties already care for more than 260,000 residents 65 and older. Hazelden Foundation opened an inpatient and outpatient substance abuse treatment program for older adults in Naples in November. About 35 percent of those admitted to the facility are 50 and older with 93 percent of them having problems with alcohol, 13 percent to opiates or opiate-mimicking drugs, and 19 percent to sedatives, according to Brenda Iliff, Hazelden’s executive director.

The United Health Foundation, a division of the insurer UnitedHealthcare, recently found that the 5 percent of Florida seniors who are “chronic” drinkers or consume up to 60 alcoholic beverages per month is among the highest in the nation.

This reflects findings by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) that 4 out of 5 older adults treated for substance abuse were also identified as alcohol-dependent. The NCADD also found that alcohol abuse rates in nursing homes are as high as 49 percent and four out of five adults engaged in alcohol drinking also have substance abuse problems. Addiction specialists expect seniors’ opioid abuse to double by 2020 to 3.5 million, data from NCADD showed.

NCADD said substance abuse among seniors is inadequately explored because diagnosing symptoms of alcohol abuse in seniors is challenging as symptoms of the addiction is similar to symptoms of behavioral disorders such as dementia and depression. NCADD also said that seniors themselves have a tendency to hide their alcohol misuse than seek treatment while family members, especially their children, are not accepting of their condition.

Meanwhile, USA Today examined federal data and found that use of some of the most commonly abused painkillers, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, climbed more than 50 percent and the supply of each narcotic provided to the average recipient grew about 15 percent to about three months from 2007 to 2012. This means that the ratio of the nation’s 43 million seniors getting Medicare prescriptions to take pills like Vicodin or Percocet for their aches and pains often on a long-term basis is 1:5, the newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The number of senior Medicare beneficiaries being prescribed with anti-anxiety medications, such as alprazolam or Xanax, busipirone and lorazepam or Ativan rose 25 percent to more than 700,000 during the period. In 2012, the average patient got about five months’ worth of such medications, about 10 percent more than in 2007

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which administers Medicare, has implemented severe measures on drugs misuse and prevention.

“Medicare takes instances of prescription drug misuse very seriously and recently put in place aggressive new rules that take further steps to prevent drug abuse and overutilization,” CMS said in a statement.

The NCADD said the elderly alcoholism epidemic in the U.S. is “underestimated, underidentified, underdiagnosed, and undertreated.”

Seniors taking opioids and anti-anxiety drugs should be monitored closely, suggested Brady Grainer, COO of BioCorRx Inc. (OTC: BICX), which licenses Start Fresh Program (SFP), an addiction treatment that uses naltrexone implants and life coaching for patients.

“Any demographic of the population should be monitored closely if they are prescribed opioids or other addictive medicines for a prolong period of time. As it is commonly known, the longer someone takes an addictive substance the greater the chance they will become dependent on it.” Granier said. “I think human tendency is to take it less seriously when someone elderly appears to have a substance abuse problem. We need to change that.”

The SFP is already offered in California, Arizona, Nebraska, and Connecticut treatment centers and BioCorRx is working to license the program in clinics in the District of Columbia, North Carolina, Georgia, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

“We also hope to establish program availability in Florida in the near future. There is a great need for help in that state and we have begun to evaluate our options there” said Granier.

SFP’s biodegradable implant slowly releases Naltrexone, an opioid and alcohol antagonist that effectively curbs drug cravings, into the bloodstream after it is inserted under the skin of the patient’s lower abdomen through an outpatient procedure. The implant can eliminate the patients’ need to take the daily oral pill form of Naltrexone, preventing them from missing doses that are crucial to their recovery.

The impant is also a cost-effective way to save on rehabilitation costs. Hazelden’s treatment program costs $20,000 and is not shouldered by Medicare and Medicaid, though some private insurance providers offer coverage for a percentage of the costs. Healthcare costs related to alcohol and drug abuse among seniors are projected to reach $100 billion by 2018.

The SFP also uses coaching to help patients overcome alcohol addiction successfully.

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