Home Mesa Peeps Kasunic: Older adults can’t be overlooked in fight against opioid, prescription misuse

Kasunic: Older adults can’t be overlooked in fight against opioid, prescription misuse

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Mary Lynn Kasunic is president and CEO of the Area Agency on Aging. (Submitted photo)

What’s been missing from the conversation surrounding the opioid public health emergency and ongoing prescription drug misuse is its devastating impact on older adults and the significant need for more education specifically for this population.

According to the Arizona Department of Vital Statistics, nearly 17 percent of the state’s population aged 55 and older who were admitted to hospitals in 2015 were reported to have Opioid Use Disorder.

The Arizona RX Drug Misuse and Abuse Initiative: A Multi-Systemic, Multi-Level Approach for Addressing Arizona’s “Silent Epidemic,” published by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, flatly stated that “adult prescription drug misuse in Arizona is alarmingly high.”

Statistics show that 2.5 million older adults struggle with alcohol and drug problems, representing up to 11 percent of all elderly hospital admissions, 14 percent of emergency room admissions and 20 percent of elderly psychiatric hospital admissions.

Although people 65 and over represent only 13 percent of the U.S. population, they account for nearly 30 percent of all prescribed medications. And, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reports that seniors face a greater risk of harmful medication interactions and even more-debilitating general physical effects of alcohol and drugs.

The Area Agency on Aging is taking a leading role in addressing the issues of medication management through several key initiatives.

The Agency has a long history with Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care (MMIC), formerly the Regional Behavioral Health Authority, to do prevention work that educates older adults and professionals about medication misuse.

As a part of this work, in 2015, the Agency developed RxMatters, an education presentation in conjunction with Prevention Works AZ and the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission. The program focuses on opioid safe storage and disposal of medication for older adults and their caregivers. In 2016, the presentation reached more than 300 older adults.

In April 2017, the Area Agency created a six-week awareness MMIC-funded campaign about the proper use of medications that reached more than 10,000 households.

Also in 2017, 16 AmeriCorps Members in three Arizona counties took the RxMatters program into the homes of older adults and their caregivers through funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), administered by the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family.

Finally, Area Agency on Aging, Region One and three other state Area Agencies are part of a targeted response grant to address opioid misuse in five Arizona counties. Funding for the effort is from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and AHCCCS and in partnership with the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family.

With the Arizona Department of Health Services reporting more than 3,200 suspected opioid overdoses statewide since June 15, with more than 400 of them resulting in deaths, addressing this crisis as a community has never been more critical.

And, in doing so, we cannot overlook – or overstate – the impact of the crisis on one of our most vulnerable populations.

– Mary Lynn Kasunic is president and CEO of the Area Agency on Aging. For more information about the agency and its programs to fight prescription and opioid misuse among older adults, go to www.aaaphx.org.

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