Amy bigger picBy Amy Rowan
Lead Options Counselor and ADRC Programs Coordinator for the Area Agency on Aging and ADRC at Region 10

Older adults may be the last population you’d picture having a drug and alcohol addiction. New data shows the numbers of seniors with drug problems are on the rise. But the causes are complex and the solutions aren’t easy.

The rate of seniors and elderly people with drug problems is difficult to assess. One reason is that “many of the signs and symptoms of misuse and abuse mirror common signs of aging in general”. Johns Hopkins Medical School notes that the number of Americans over age 50 abusing prescription drugs is projected to rise to 2.7 million in 2020, a 190% increase from the 2001 figure of 910,000.

Drug misuse usually occurs when seniors are being treated for legitimate medical issues such as pain, anxiety, depression, or insomnia, but they increase their dose against medical advice in order to seek greater relief from their condition. Drug abuse encompasses inappropriate use of any substance, especially those that alter consciousness which is less common among seniors, but is becoming bigger issue and is on the rise.

Most of us know or have heard about the common drugs:

  • Opioids are used to treat pain. Common opioids include oxycodone, hydrocodone, and other related medicines such as morphine, codeine, hydromorphone, and fentanyl.
  • Benzodiazepines are a class of medicines primarily used to treat anxiety, panic disorders, and insomnia. They can also be used to treat bipolar disorder and even epilepsy. Common benzodiazepines include diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), and clonazepam (Klonopin).
  • Alcohol is undoubtedly a drug, but because it’s considered socially acceptable, seniors with alcohol problems can fly under the radar.
  • Stimulants such as Ritalin or Adderall are often prescribed to younger people for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and sometimes prescribed to older adults for disorders such as narcolepsy and obesity.

The nonmedical use and abuse of prescription drugs is a serious public health problem in this country, but we are forgetting to see and need to be more informed are the illegal street drugs.  We live in a great community, but we are faced with rising drug usage.

How much do we know methamphetamines, heroin, crack, cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy, LSD, and PCP?  What about the emerging family of drugs containing synthetic chemical related to cathinone such as bath salts?

As human service or health care field workers, we are seeing that the economy playing a large role in this situation. Many seniors are experiencing hard times. Or their kids and grandkids have fallen on hard times, so they move in together. Many times this is where the drugs are introduced.  We are finding the greatest drug complications come with the younger generations moving in with the older generations.  We are also are finding drug abuse, misuse, and dealing in senior housing facilities. This is primarily occurring with pain meds are being sold, shared and stolen.

Get educated about the scale and nature of drug abuse and misuse in our region!

Lunch ‘n’ Learn: “The Silent Epidemic of Senior Drug Abuse”

The Montrose Police Drug Task Force will be presenting on what drugs are prominent in Montrose, what certain drugs look like, what to look for in the home, and how to be safe. The presentation is taking place on Tuesday, July 21, 12-1pm at the Region 10 office, located at 300 N. Cascade Ave. in Montrose. There is no cost to attend the presentation. If you are interested in attending, please call Amy Rowan at 970.249.2436 x 203 or register online by visiting the following link: