Aging Well Spotlights Unique Opioid Risks for Elders

Unique opioid risks for elders were recently highlighted on Aging Well, a monthly production of Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES).

Opioid abuse was described as a growing problem for elders by SCES mental health Cassie Cramer. She noted that people 65+ accounted for roughly 15% of overdoses reported in 2017, according Mass Department of Health data.

“A lot of people think this is a problem that mostly affects younger people, but in reality the majority of prescriptions with abuse potential are prescribed to older adults,” said Cramer.

Older women face several unique risk factors, added Libby Shrobe from the Institute for Health and Recovery. She said older women have increased risk for chronic pain, adding that women often have physiological changes that can affect the appropriate dosage.

Generally speaking, Shrobe said opioids can also increase fall risk, and can potentially cause problems when taken with other medications.

“If you’re taking more than one drug, it’s really important to talk to your doctor and pharmacist and ensure there’s not going to be negative interactions,” she said.

Shrobe offered several tips for spotting opioid abuse, listing over-sedation, constipation, nausea, dizziness and confusion as common signs. Constant prescription refills and using multiple pharmacies are also potential trouble signs. She advised tactful discussion as a good starting point when there’s addiction concerns.

“Just reaching out compassionately to say you’re worried for somebody is never a bad idea,” said Shrobe “You’re probably not going to change anybody’s mind overnight and it’s not appropriate to get into conflict over it, but just offering support is a generally a step in the right direction.”

Several connections between opioids and elder abuse were outlined by SCES Protective Services Social Worker Norah Al-Wetaid. She listed younger people stealing medication as a form of elder abuse, adding opioids are often linked to self-neglect that can put an elder’s housing at-risk.

“It can be then falling behind on rent because they’re spending money on other things, or it can be drug use in the home, which is a major violation for many leases,” said Al-Wetaid. “They might have children struggling with addiction who don’t have anywhere else to go, and they want to help, and that can be a violation too.”

Protective Services typically works with elder to alleviate conditions of abuse, and Al-Wetaid said they often work with landlords to resolve issues and avoid evictions.

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Aging Well is a monthly production of SCES, in partnership with Somerville Media Center.

Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES) is a non-profit agency that supports the independence and well-being of older people in Somerville and Cambridge. For more information, visit, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or contact the SCES Aging Information Center at 617-628-2601 for free advice and guidance.