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Huge Increase in Elder Opioid Abuse Cases

According to the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, suspected elder abuse reports in the state of Massachusetts have risen by 37%, while the number of confirmed allegations of elder abuse has seen a 57% increase over the past 5 years. In FY 2015, nearly 25,000 elderly abuse reports were made to the 22 designated Protective Services agencies that Elder Affairs partners with throughout the Commonwealth or the Elder Abuse Hotline, in addition to over 7,000 newly confirmed allegations of elder abuse.

Although Elder Affairs' figures do not delineate how many of these cases exactly involved opiates, experts believe that this massive surge in elder abuse is fueled to a great extent by the opiate crisis, as Massachusetts, like so many states across the nation, is facing an unprecedented epidemic of opiate dependence and overdose deaths. The opioid crisis in Massachusetts has taken a devastating toll on the young and the elderly in particular.

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan stated that more adult children suffering from opioid use disorders are moving back in with their retired parents, who monthly receive Social Security and pension checks and can thus become easy targets for financial exploitation as well as emotional and physical abuse. Ryan also said that in April her office has handled around ten cases involving grandchildren who reportedly stole jewelry, silver and money from their unsuspecting grandparents. The stolen items were often pawned in order to purchase illicit drugs such as heroin.

Marian T. Ryan's office recently prosecuted an elder abuse case involving a bed-bound elderly woman who was terrorized by her opiate-addicted adult son, after a visiting nurse made an abuse report when she noticed bullet holes in the woman's bedroom ceiling. Ryan advises first responders, emergency medical service staff, firefighters, and police to look for uncanny bruising on the forearms and wrists of people age 60 and older, as well as to open the refrigerator to check if there is sufficient food and to carefully look in the other rooms for any signs of elder abuse.

Notwithstanding that the true extent of elder abuse throughout Massachusetts and the nation is hard to pinpoint, an estimated 10% of the elder population has been subjected to some kind of abuse. according to a recent New England Journal of Medicine review, which concluded that abusers are most likely spouses or adult children struggling with substance abuse and physical or mental health problems.

In light of specialists' belief that shame and fear often prevent the elderly from speaking up, Marian T. Ryan recently made the decision to increase training sessions for law enforcement officers, firefighters, and EMT's in order to effectively help them spot trouble in a home when responding to calls. Ryan's office has found on numerous occasions that emergency calls for injuries seemingly resulted from typical slip-and-fall accidents turn out to be elder abuse cases where the perpetrator is a family member.

Senior Attorney Betsy Crimmins Legal Services who is specialized in elder abuse cases and launched an elderly abuse prevention task force in 2014 underscores the fact that elders may be reluctant to speak up for fear their adult children will be prosecuted and they will be relocated to a nursing facility. Crimmins also said that, when asked about what exactly they needed help with, the elders unanimously said " opioids". In the past two years, the task force countless stories about opiate-addicted adult children who moved back with their elderly parents and began dealing opiates out of the home.

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