Opiate dependence is a growing problem in the United States, and unfortunately, older adults are on the front lines. Because older Americans are more likely to live alone or be socially isolated, they often struggle to reach out for help with opiate addiction. Additionally, it is important for older people dealing with opiate dependence to receive care from a professional treatment center that specializes in geriatric substance abuse care. Senior citizens metabolize drugs and experience withdrawal differently than younger adults, making it important for them to receive compassionate and competent care.
The Scope of the Opiate Addiction Problem Among Older Adults
Substance abuse is so prevalent among senior citizens that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association has termed it “an invisible epidemic.” Despite comprising just 13% of the population of the United States, people over 65 years of age account for more than 33% of spending on prescription medications, reports the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Given the high rates of chronic disease in older individuals, opiate painkillers remain among the most widely prescribed drugs for this group. Prescription opiates may include morphine, oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet), fentanyl, and hydrocodone (Vicodin). All of these medications have a relatively high addiction potential, meaning that a large number of people who take them eventually have trouble controlling their use.
Importance of Safe, Effective Detoxification Procedures for Older Adults
Treatment for opiate dependence in seniors can be very successful, but it is important for the addicted person to find professionals with expertise in geriatric care. The first step in successful treatment is detoxifying from the effects of opiates. This stage weans the body from physically depending on opiates to function.
In younger adults, detoxification often includes a rapid, “cold turkey” approach. However, older adults may experience harmful medical side effects during a rapid detox. The Waismann Method® Medical Group has developed options for patients for whom rapid detox may be dangerous.
With the Waismann Treatment, patients are admitted to a full service, accredited hospital at least one day before the detox procedure for a thorough evaluation. This allows physicians to determine possible reactions, characterize physical damage caused by opiate use, and provide beneficial medications. During the sedation-assisted detoxification procedure, patients spend two to four days in a comfortable, inpatient environment. They then move into the Domus Retreat for aftercare. This aftercare period may last from days to several weeks.
Treatment Approaches for Opiate Dependence in Seniors
The good news is that among older adults who seek treatment for substance abuse, success rates are similar or higher than those seen in younger people. In general, treatment methods for opiate dependence are the same for older and younger adults. These may include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy. This form of therapy helps people identify factors that contribute to their opiate abuse, such as triggering situations or maladaptive coping strategies.
- Motivational interviewing. Another form of therapy, motivational interviewing, helps individuals recognize their need to change their existing patterns of opiate use. This increases motivation to be an active participant in treatment. Motivational interviewing can be particularly helpful during the first stages of treatment.
- Nutritional counseling. Particularly in older adults taking prescription medications, maintaining appropriate nutrition is essential. Nutritional counseling helps seniors create meal plans that provide the nutrients they need.
- Pain management. As many older adults first became addicted to opiates by taking prescription medications for chronic pain, findings alternative pain management strategies is essential. Acupuncture, massage, yoga, and mindfulness meditation have been shown to be beneficial for managing pain without requiring addictive medications.
- Relapse prevention. Unfortunately, older adults who abuse opiates are at an elevated risk of relapse. A key part of treatment is identifying triggers for relapse, alternative coping strategies, and alternative pain management techniques.
If you’re concerned about your or a family member’s opiate use, please contact the Waismann Method today for a caring, compassionate approach to addiction treatment.
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Substance Abuse Among Older Adults. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 1998. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 26.) Chapter 1 - Substance Abuse Among Older Adults: An Invisible Epidemic. Retrieved on March 4, 2015.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. Prescription Drug Abuse. Retrieved on March 4, 2015.