Substance Abuse Growing Among Older Adults

New data document a growing trend of substance abuse among older adults, for whom the most commonly reported trigger is depression or anxiety. Nearly half of respondents in a survey expressed preference toward prescription drugs and alcohol over other substances. Still, the number of older adults reporting recent illegal drug use nearly doubled in the five-year span from 2002 to 2007, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, which also reported a 77 percent increase in the use of nonmedical pharmaceuticals between 2002 and 2009, an average growth of 11 percent per year. Caron Treatment Centers highlighted these findings and warned that “[without] early intervention and treatment these statistics will continue to rise, leading to an epidemic in addiction among older Americans.”

So what does this mean for the health of our boomers and seniors?

Mental health is the oft-forgotten cornerstone of our overall well being, systematically neglected for quick fixes that inflate long-term health care costs and cripple quality of care.

High quality health care plans are working to integrate mental and behavioral health as the natural complement to physical health. New York has begun restructuring its Medicaid programs to integrate primary care and behavioral health. The state required each county have at least two medical homes – a model that tasks care managers with the coordination of a patient’s health care and the creation of a continuity of care plan, utilizing a network of health and social service providers suited to the individual’s needs. Expected to begin operations this summer, the health homes will provide “treatment for mental and behavioral health and/or substance abuse or chronic health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, overweight and high blood pressure.”

Deb Peartree, director of operations for the Greater Rochester Health Home Network, delights in the opportunity for communities to collectively care for these individuals, in a statement echoing prominent wisdom, “I think the moral test of how our health care system performs is how we take care of the most vulnerable.”

Here in Massachusetts, MassHealth is proposing a comprehensive integrated care system for disabled adults in both the Medicaid and Medicare programs. The demonstration project would add significant new mental health and substance abuse services, focusing on behavioral health diversionary services and community-based support.

Policy needs to address rising substance abuse treatment needs by targeting integrating comprehensive behavioral health and substance abuse care with overall health and patient care. Public engagement is critical to make our system work for everyone.
– Kaitlyn Rhodes

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