ACL has authored a new issue briefing entitled “The Opioid Public Health Emergency and Older Adults.” Opioid misuse and addiction have become a large, nation-wide issue. Opioid use disorder can affect people of all ages; racial, ethnic, sexual and gender minorities; income classes; and geographic areas. Older adults are among the groups affected by this problem because they often use prescription opioids to cope with painful chronic conditions, such as arthritis, or procedures, such as surgery.
As a result of chronic pain, older adults may use prescription opioids for a long time, which presents a risk for developing an opioid use disorder. In addition, as people age, medications affect them more strongly and are slower to leave their systems so the side effects of opioids can be severe.
Among the risks that older adults who use opioids face are death, hospitalization, and use of emergency departments. The National Aging Network has opportunities to educate older adults about opioids and connect them with helpful resources when they seek to reduce or eliminate use of the medications and obtain treatment if they have developed an opioid use disorder. Education resources are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Among the treatment resources are federal programs, like Medicare, which covers various treatments for substance use disorders. Medicaid treatment coverage is available too, with the extent of it varying by state and jurisdiction. Veterans may also have access to treatments for the disorders and to non-opioid treatments for pain through the Veterans Health Administration.
Many states have taken action to address the opioid public health crisis, often with grants from the CDC and SAMHSA, and in partnership with the Aging Network. As of 2015, 13 states had educational programs targeted to older adults. The Network could look to federal resources and state and local innovations for ideas when addressing the challenges of the opioid crisis among older adults. To read the issue briefing, go to https://www.acl.gov/aging-and-disability-in-america/issue-briefings.