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As the opioid crisis continues, more seniors are overdosing

Posted at 6:25 PM, Aug 08, 2018

In the last week, 14 people have died from drug overdoses in Cuyahoga County. While addicts younger in age may come to mind, half of these recent deaths were people age 60 and over.

RELATED: 14 people die from drug overdoses in five days In Cuyahoga Co., medical examiner says

It's a troubling new trend that is not only emerging here but across the country.

When it comes to who is abusing opioids, the focus is often on one key demographic.

"Usually the folks hardest hit by this are people between the ages of 45-50," said Scott Osiecki, Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County.

A dramatic shift emerged in this latest surge of fatal overdoses.

"Fifty percent of the deaths that we had were for folks over 60," said Osiecki.

The ADAMHS Board is taking notice.

"We are concerned that there are more elderly people falling victim to this," said Osiecki.

As for why seniors may be more at risk? Osiecki said, "Elderly people are more likely to have pains or physical illnesses."

Many of them turned to legal medications to treat those problems, up until now.

The opioid crisis has changed how those pills are prescribed.

"It puts a crunch on people that might just be a little bit abusing the medications and it pushes them out on the street," said Carole Negus, Director of Nursing at Stella Maris. "People are actually overdosing from one pill."

Negus believes some of the older people to die from overdoses in the last week bought the drugs from someone on the streets.

"People are really starting to be wary about it; that's why I think we are seeing a decrease in the young people," said Negus.

That message, Negus said, may not be reaching those 60 and over.

"We can't assume that just because they're elderly that they're not going to be abusing these medications," said Negus.

Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health suggests opioid misuse is increasing among older adults. The epidemic is nearly doubling among Americans over the age of 50.

"Because they do have more aches and pains that maybe we could do a better education piece," said Negus.

The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner tells us the death location of these victims is evenly split between the west and east sides of the city.

In the meantime, tests are being conducted to determine what was in these drugs.

If you or anyone that you know is actively using or recovering from an opioid addiction, contact Project DAWN for information at 216-778-5677.

Eligible program participants are given free Naloxone kits – the opioid reversing antidote.

Additionally, the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board of Cuyahoga County provides a 24-hour crisis hotline at 216-623-6888.