Wolf administration highlights resources for seniors struggling with substance use disorder


HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – A new study has found that just over 10,000 United States residents age 55 and older died of an opioid overdose in 2019. In response to the study, the Pennsylvania Drug and Alcohol Program joined several Wolf administrative departments in highlighting risk factors plus race and ethnicity and disparities. They also highlighted resources for older Pennsylvanians living with substance use disorder.

JAMA Open Network completed the study, which also found that the death rate from opioids among non-Hispanic black men 55 or older was four times higher than the overall death rate from opioids for people of the same age.

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“While there are many factors for this current trend, it is clear that black men have historically been overlooked in the conversation. At the Office of Advocacy and Reform (OAR), our team is focused on addressing historic inequalities,” said OAR Deputy Director Victor Cabral, MSW, LSW, CCTP-I.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, older adults are often more susceptible to the effects of drugs because it is harder for their bodies to absorb and break down drugs and alcohol as easily.

“We know that the overdose epidemic and substance use disorders impact all ages and all demographic groups, but older adults are often an underdiagnosed population because they tend to take more prescription drugs than other age groups,” said Jen Smith, secretary of drug and alcohol programs.

With an increase in prescription medications, there is also an increased risk of abuse by forgetting to take their medications, taking them more often than prescribed, or taking the wrong amount due to memory impairment. PACE, the Department of Aging’s Prescribing Assistance Program, actively works with physicians to reduce the overuse of opioids and drugs used to treat alcohol use disorders.

“Adding powerful medications to treat chronic pain can cause unforeseen issues such as falls and confusion which can lead to accidents, long recovery times and worsen mental health issues,” said Tom Snedden, director of the PACE program. “Five percent of Pennsylvanians age 65 and older have two or more drinks each day, and the pandemic and resulting social isolation has likely increased the number of older Pennsylvanians with alcohol use disorders. “

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use disorder in old age, contact one of the resources listed below:

  • call DDAP’s Get Help Now hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
  • visit the DDAP website by clicking here
  • learn more about the PACE program by calling 1-800-225-7223 or visiting the Department of Aging website by clicking here
  • call the PA Link call center at 1-800-753-8827 or visit their website by clicking here.
  • visit the Territorial Agencies Agencies website by clicking here.

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