The explosive proliferation of opiate abuse and addiction in Maine doesn’t discriminate, cutting across a broad base of the population, paying no heed to factors like race, gender, age or even education. In fact, the impact of opiate abuse on the elderly in Maine has largely gone unnoticed, the number of people in their 50s and 60s whose lives have been devastated by addiction only continues to rise.
The statistics proves this trend. In 2014 alone, there were 494 cases of drug overdose involving older individuals, this amounting to 17% of the 2,947 drug overdose cases emergency service providers encountered that year. The reasons these figures are so worrying is because older citizens only account for 4% of the admissions to Maine’s Opiate treatment programs.
Baby Boomers and Addiction
Studies have arisen to suggest that baby boomers have a higher risk of falling under the weight of addiction, Lenard Kaye, the Director of the University of Maine Center on Aging, put forth several layered factors to explain this.
According to Kaye, Baby Boomers have always been risk-takers and the fact that they grew up in a time when prescription drug use was growing exponentially didn’t help matters. With Americans turning to pharmaceuticals as a quick fix for all manner of ailments, no matter how mild, it became second nature for the generation to take medications without question.
This is where the increasing tendency among physicians to prescribe ever more powerful drugs like OxyContin becomes an issue. Many physicians are under pressure to see as many patients as possible and, thus, doing little to not only teach their patients how to safely use these medications but failing to encourage them to discontinue those more addictive painkillers once the need for their capabilities passed. The actions of these irresponsible physicians are such that there are more addictive opiates in the medicine cabinets of today’s homeowners than ever before.
Of course, doctors cannot take all the blame here. As a U.S Senate Special Committee on Aging, chaired by Doctor Steve Diaz (CEO of Maine General Health in Augusta), revealed, there are certain changes in regulatory standards that brought about an increase in the number of opiates being prescribed by doctors.
It was in 1995 that a national initiative was implemented, determining that victims of chronic and acute pain had been permitted to suffer for far too long, this spurring an increase in the number of addictive painkillers being prescribed. The relationships between hospitals and certain pharmaceutical giants (who allegedly incentivize physicians to overmedicate for pain for business rather than medical reasons) only complicated matters further.
Combine clinical pressure to eliminate pain and financial incentives to keep patients free from discomfort, and it is easy to see why Doctor Steve Diaz has been proposing a shift towards a multidisciplinary approach to managing pain that includes alternative treatments such as acupuncture.
According to Pat Kimball (the Executive Director of an addiction treatment agency called Wellspring), substance abuse among the elderly is typically associated with childhood abuse and neglect as well as physical and emotional traumas, especially the kind elicited from military service.
Treatment programs continue to emerge in Maine, purposing to provide services tailored to the needs of Baby Boomers, though older citizens have shown particular interest in outpatient programs that allow them to fight their addictions without neglecting their financial and family responsibilities.
While the costs of treatment have proven to be a hindrance among many Baby Boomers, various funding options have emerged on the scene to help the desperate acquire the treatment they so desire, this including gifts and grants from a variety of parties.
The majority of treatment options constitute behavior modification and counseling, this along with chemical treatments such as methadone (which is most effective against longstanding addictions).
According to Kimball, pride and stigma are two factors responsible for preventing older people from seeking treatment. Even as the relevant authorities in Maine take steps to encourage Baby Boomers to invest in substance abuse treatment, Kaye cannot stress enough the importance of reducing the availability of illegal opiates, especially curbing the frequency with which doctors prescribe them.
Older citizens are not particularly visible; as such, it is difficult to determine whether the issue of addiction among older citizens will ever achieve the traction and attention it deserves.