The overall rates of drug overdoses and overdose-related deaths is on the rise, and the senior population is no exception. One recent study found that overdose deaths among those 65 and older have increased four-fold in the last two decades.

When talking about addiction, safety, and recovery, we need to remember the needs of our seniors and how life-saving interventions can prevent unnecessary deaths from both legal and illegal substances.

Senior Overdoses are On the Rise

Often, when we talk about drug and alcohol overdoses, the discourse is centered around young adults. This makes sense, as those in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are often the most impacted demographics when it comes to addiction and overdose. 

However, drug overdoses are increasing across all demographics, and the senior population is no exception. Researchers and addiction professionals are expressing concern over how rapidly the senior population has experienced increased overdoses in the past two decades, and the numbers only continue to climb. 

Most of the senior drug overdoses are from opioids, most specifically fentanyl. Fentanyl is a powerful pain reliever that has become increasingly controversial due to its addictive potential. Many feel that this powerful opiate is being prescribed too often, especially considering how easy it is to develop a crippling dependence on the drug.

According to the data, most senior overdose deaths occurred because of illegal street substances and were determined to be unintentional and accidental. Prescribed medications also played a significant role, as do the negative interactions between illicit and prescribed drugs.

The data is clear: we need more resources, education, and intervention for people over the age of 65 who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. While there are many excellent programs aimed at helping young people in their recovery, there are not nearly enough resources available for older adults.

How To Support the Seniors in Your Life

Significant societal and governmental changes need to be made to address the needs of seniors when it comes to drugs and alcohol. In the meantime, if you’re concerned about a loved one or friend, here are some steps to help the senior in your life avoid the harmful and dangerous impacts of substances.

Ensure They Have Proper Support and Resources

Drug overdoses happen for several reasons. Sometimes, an individual’s tolerance changes unexpectedly, or they start a new medication and an unpredictable drug reaction occurs. And, in the instance of illicit street drugs, sometimes an individual ends up taking significantly higher doses than intended.

Regardless of how or why somebody overdoses, there are steps that people can take to avoid a potentially fatal overdose. Medical providers should always be the first line of defense to ensure they are not taking anything that could interact in ways that could cause harm. Remind the senior in your life that it’s vital that they are incredibly honest with their provider so they aren’t accidentally prescribed a medication that can potentially cause a negative interaction or overdose. Many seniors are taking several prescribed medications, and they may not always be immediately aware of how those medications can interact with each other and with other, non-prescribed substances, including alcohol.

Naloxone (also referred to by its brand name Narcan) is a powerful tool to help someone who is an experiencing an opioid overdose. Narcan acts quickly in the event of an opiate overdose by restoring breathing and effectively stopping the overdose in its tracks. If you know a senior who is taking an opioid medication or you suspect they might be, it’s critical to get them this medication and give it to someone who can help administer it in the event of an overdose. Some hospitals and pharmacies will  provide Naloxone free of charge to those who request it, and there are many organizations who are dedicating to getting Narcan into the hands of those who might need it.

Educate Them about the Risks

You can support the seniors in your life by helping them search out information from reputable sources and empowering them to speak to their providers if they have any questions. There is a ton of misinformation, online and elsewhere, about drugs and drug interactions. 

Many people who overdose think they have a handle on their drugs of choice before a major event happens. Accurate education for navigating even legal substances is critical to keeping everyone safe, including seniors.

Reach Out to Check on Them

If you suspect someone might be struggling with substance abuse, it’s always good to reach out and let them know that you are there for them and that you want the best for them. Even if they aren’t ready to get help for their substance misuse, you can be a resource when they eventually seek support. Let them know you are there to talk and be a listening ear.  

Addiction and substance dependence can be an incredibly lonely and isolating experience. Many seniors suffer in silence because they don’t know how to reach out for help and begin that conversation. Being a support system for those in your life could make a significant difference in their recovery.

Seeking Out Counseling

If you are worried about a senior in your life and think they might have a substance abuse problem, you should encourage them to consider chemical dependence counseling. Many drug and alcohol counselors are experienced in supporting seniors to overcome their addiction. They can provide tools, resources, and skill-building to begin a life of recovery. 

Get Support Today

Getting help for substance abuse addiction at any age can be harrowing, but it’s so important to take that first step to start the recovery journey. If you’re in the San Diego area and would like support for yourself or a senior in your life, contact Confidential Recovery today or contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness hotline at 1-800-950-6264 for more resources.

About the Author

Scott H. Silverman is a high-profile expert on addiction and recovery, making frequent public and media appearances for the last 40 years.  He is the author of The Opioid Epidemic, and the Founder and CEO of Confidential Recovery, a San Diego substance abuse treatment center that specializes in helping Veterans and First Responders get and stay sober.