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Monday, March 1, 2010

Older Dogs and New Tricks

A young life is lost to prescription drug abuse. A tragedy of unknown future proportions has occurred. People grieve and pray no more youth will be sacrificed in this deadly game of abusing and misusing prescription drugs. What a price to pay for a needless mistake of ingesting chemicals that kill. Very simply, many youth have not developed the needed skills that they can use to combat the potentially deadly temptations of drug experimentation.

How does society react to senior citizens involved in the same game -- prescription drug abuse and misuse? Drug abuse affects people of all ages, including the senior citizen population.

 Source: Mark, T.L. et al. (2005). National Estimates of Expenditures for Mental Health Services and Substance Abuse Treatment, 1991-2001. SAMHSA Publication No. SMA 05-3999. Rockville, MD.

Some Senior Reports

1. Kim Dayton (, December 13 2005) reported the story of Dottie Neeley. Dayton said, "Dottie Neeley, 87, was fingerprinted, photographed and thrown in jail, imprisoned as much by the tubing from her oxygen tank as by the concrete and steel around her. The woman - who spent two days in jail after her arrest last December - is among a growing number of Kentucky senior citizens charged in a crackdown on a crime authorities say is rampant in Appalachia: Elderly people are reselling their painkillers and other medications to addicts."

Why do seniors do this? "When a person is on Social Security, drawing $500 a month, and they can sell their pain pills for $10 apiece, they'll take half of them for themselves and sell the other half to pay their electric bills or buy groceries," Floyd County jailer Roger Webb said.

2. added to the information, "In the last 20 months, eastern Kentucky’s Operation UNITE has arrested more than 40 individuals over the age of 60 and charged them with selling prescription drugs." Local jails are filling up with seniors, something that was a rarity just five years ago.

These drug-selling seniors are not reaping the full benefit of their medication as they trade pills for extra cash for their expenses. That makes them more susceptible to complications or less likely to recover from illnesses or live comfortably without pain.  Local churches and other organizations have stepped in to offer free food and other help for seniors who think they need to sell their medications in order to make ends meet.

3. In another senior story, Mary E. Murray, 65, and Buster J. Murray, 82, of Fall Branch, Tennessee (tenn, August 7th, 2009) had their home searched by sheriff's investigators who found drug ledgers, five loaded handguns, and approximately $33,000 cash. The investigators said the Murrays had illegally diverted large quantities of their prescribed medication (including hydrocodone and Valium prescriptions obtained through licensed doctors) and sold it to various people out of their home.

Washington County Sheriff Office Captain Shawn Judy said the couple was accused of mostly selling Lortab. Judy said investigators believe the couple would fill multiple prescriptions for their medications early and at one time so nothing would seem suspicious.

4. And, yet another report by Kyle Swenson ("Police Face a New Kind of Drug Trade,", December 1 2009) found as users move away from crack cocaine and other street drugs and take up pharmaceuticals, organized crime entities are becoming involved in the trade. "Nashville’s street gangs and other groups have begun to organize selling operations," Detective Michael Donaldson, veteran of the Metro Police drug unit said. "Some even run 'pain trains,' a scam wherein dealers hire vans and offer to take groups of senior citizens to pharmacies to fill their prescriptions. On the ride back, the drivers buy the drugs from the seniors."

Swenson found if a dealer can get his or her hands on a standard prescription of 60 to 90 pills, he can sell each at $80 a tablet and potentially pocket a profit of $4,800 to $7,200 per bottle — a serious intake considering the average prescription costs a patient $1,200 without coverage. With coverage, a dealer could get the same product for as little as a $10 co-pay.

5. Finally, Laurie Mason Schroeder (Bucks County Pennsylvania Courier Times, December 28 2009) reported Patrick Carr, a local resident injured in a roofing accident in 2007, became hooked on prescription painkillers, turned to a Philadelphia street dealer for his pain pills. Carr, (24, not a senior) was soon working for the dealer, selling pills to finance his habit. As he used more pills than he sold, the dealer threatened to kill Carr, he later told police.

The terrified Carr, desperate for cash and pills, used a toy gun to rob several local banks and a pharmacy before he was eventually arrested and sentenced to 7 and one-half to 25 years behind bars. Senior dealers beware! If street dealers want cash, they will kill, regardless of age.

Extent of Senior Drug Problems

Do you realize that adults 60 years and older make up one of the fastest growing groups of U.S. citizens affected by drug abuse? Predictions call for an overwhelming increase in senior drug abuse in the coming years. By 2030 the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates about one-third of adults 55 or older will have a substance abuse problem. And, it is true that Seniors 60 and older now consume more prescription and over-the-counter drugs than any other age group. According to the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services, more than 17 percent of adults over 60, wittingly or not, abuse prescription drugs. (

Of course, most people realize that alcohol use and prescription drug use is commonplace in everyday life. Less stigma is associated with 75-year-old Uncle Joe downing a few painkillers to deal with his aging health complications such as arthritis than dirty bag woman Crazy Stella swallowing some pain relief for her life on the street. Senior citizen drug abuse is often known as a "hidden" problem for many reasons.


In general, older adults are more likely than younger adults to hide their substance abuse and feel shame about their problem. So, naturally, older adults are less likely to seek help or talk with family or friends about drugs. In fact, caretakers often mistake substance abuse and misuse symptoms as depression and demensia. 

A senior may have been abusing drugs or alcohol for years, or may start as a way of dealing with feelings of grief, financial difficulties, loneliness, or medical problems. Many of these senior citizens may begin abusing medications that were prescribed to them for legitimate medical issues. Some other high-ranking reasons for seniors to seek prescription relief include retirement, increased health problems, and loss of independence.

Elderly substance abuse is not a new problem, but it is frequently concealed. Often an individual lives alone, concealing the addiction from family and friends. Their addiction may be compounded with psychiatric disorders such as depression or medical conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

Watch Senior Meds

Often unknowingly, seniors provide teens and other family abusers with stashes of drugs. By storing their drugs in medicine cabinets or in plain sight, the older adults offer easy access to prescriptions, some new and some expired, but all accessible to the abuser to be used or to be sold for profit. Drugs should be under lock. Some seniors find their disposal to be a problem. Here are a few suggestions that may prevent tragedies.

  • Elderly people may try to dispose of expired medications the old-fashioned way. But, is flushing pills and drugs down the toilet unsafe for the environment? Woman's Day magazine offers a short article titled, "What to Do with Expired Meds" (April 15, 2008, page 61). Author Barbara Brody enlightens readers to the following information: "According to the American Pharmacists Association and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, flushing medication down the toilet is a bad idea, since hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals can make their way into the water supply."
  • People can check to see if a local pharmacy will dispose of the medications. Consumers can also dispose of the expired pills, according to Brody, who says in the same article, "... crush pills and dissolve them in water; mix with kitty litter, coffee grounds, or sawdust to absorb the ingredients ... " Brody further instructs consumers to seal the ingredients in a plastic bag and toss it in the garbage. Sealing the ingredients prevents accidental animal poisoning.
  • Mary King (, September 5 2009) offered some worthwhile advice. In addition to seniors keeping old, outdated medicines, they may be unknowingly taking an old medicine that shouldn't be combined with a newer, different prescription. Drug interactions can be deadly, so possible over-medicating stands among the primary reasons why caregivers are urged to keep check on medications for an elderly family member.

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