HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A new study found that just over 10,000 United States residents 55 years and older died from an opioid overdose in 2019. In response to the study, the Pennsylvania Drug and Alcohol Program joined multiple Wolf administration departments to highlight the risk factors plus race and ethnic disparities. They also pointed to resources for older Pennsylvanians living with substance use disorder.

JAMA Open Network completed the study, which also found that the opioid fatality rate among non-Hispanic Black men 55 years or older was four times greater than the overall opioid fatality rate for persons of the same age.

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

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

“We know that the overdose epidemic and substance use disorder impact all ages and demographics, but older adults are often an underdiagnosed population because they tend to take more prescription medications than other age groups,” said Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jen Smith.

With an increase of prescription medications, there is also an increased risk of misuse by either forgetting to take their medication, taking it more often than prescribed, or taking the wrong amount due to memory impairment. PACE, the Department of Aging’s prescription assistance program, actively works with physicians to reduce the overuse of opioids and drugs used to treat alcohol use disorder.

“The addition of powerful medications to treat chronic pain can cause unintended problems such as falling and confusion that may result in accidents, long recovery times and worsen mental health issues,” said PACE Program Director Tom Snedden. “Five percent of Pennsylvanians aged 65 and over consume two drinks or more every day and the pandemic and resultant social isolation have likely increased the number of older Pennsylvanians with alcohol use disorder.”

If you or someone you love are struggling with substance use disorder at an older age, reach out to one of the resources listed below:

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

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