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In October 2016, the Newtown Parent Connection (NPC) held a public forum at Edmond Town Hall on the growing opioid epidemic. At the time, NPC founder Dorrie Carolan was happy to see a significant turnout among the community’s older residents.
“I remember being surprised to see so many seniors,” she said. “But at the time, I was glad to see they wanted to learn more about opioids and the issues we were facing with so many young kids getting addicted.”
But more recently, Ms Carolan said she was approached by two friends in separate conversations, each concerned about similar issues with their aging loved ones.
“One of them was very concerned that a parent was doctor shopping in order to stockpile prescriptions. And the other was very worried about the sheer number of medications being prescribed to one of her parents that she was helping take care of,” Ms Carolan said.
Those concerned conversations provided the impetus for a pair of local forums recently hosted by NPC and cosponsored by the Newtown Prevention Council and the Newtown Center for Support and Wellness, specifically addressing the growing use and abuse of opioids and other medications by Newtown’s aging population.
The first, on May 4 at the Newtown Senior Center, drew a full house; while the second, rescheduled because of the recent storm, drew a handful of attendees to the NPC offices at Fairfield Hills, May 29.
Entitled “Living With(OUT) Pain,” the events tapped the expertise of Stephanie R. Paulmeno, MS, RN, NHA, CPH, CDP, CCM, who serves as the president of a regional nonprofit prevention council called Communities 4 Action.
Ms Paulmeno drew from her vast experiences with both the prevention agency and as the president of the Connecticut Nursing Association to help seniors and those who love and care for them understand the risks of prescription drug abuse and the potential for addiction.
“We know that in many cases, young people are getting a hold of prescription medications that were not ordered for them, but from the medicine cabinets of their parents or grandparents, or their friends parents or grandparents,” she said. “But it’s no longer just an issue for schoolchildren, but for adults. When you look at the increase in opioid use among the senior population, it’s really shocking.
“And it’s not necessarily those who are going out with the intention of using opioids,” she said. “A lot of older people use these medications for pain, and some of these opioids were never intended to be used for that kind of pain,” she said. “These are medications intended to keep people comfortable during hospice or end-of-life treatments, or those who have suffered catastrophic trauma.”
The health care professional’s talk touched on the subjects of pain management and alternatives, the warning signs of dependence, the “Beers List” of mediation that could cause more harm than good, the risks associated with current medications being prescribed, proper storing and disposing of medication, and managing medication in home care situations.
“I think one of the biggest eye-openers came when Stephanie told the seniors that they could become addicted to opioids in as little as ten days,” Ms Carolan observed. “Some said they were shocked that a physician would prescribe more than they needed and direct them to take enough opioids so they could become addicted.”
Ms Carolan said a handout detailing some of the most prescribed medications on the Beers List also shook up more than a few attendees who discovered they had been taking prescription or over-the-counter medications that were potentially harmful.
“This list was devised by a geriatrician by the name of Beers, so it has nothing to do with the beverage,” Ms Paulmeno said. “It’s an extensive list of medications that are not necessarily advised for seniors because they have adverse impact for people who are older because the organs processing these medications are not as effective as we age. You may not excrete the medication as well, or you may not break down that medication as well as when you were younger.”
The moderator circulated a modified list that attendees could take to their provider in the event they were being told to continue taking such medications. Ms Paulmeno also took the opportunity to remind the audiences about keeping their medications safe and secure.
“Stephanie also made an important point about securely storing medications, especially for seniors who live alone,” Ms Carolan said. “These folks may not pay strict attention to the quantity of pills in their medicine cabinet and think they are safe in the medicine cabinet. But we’ve learned that a cable television repairman, or a visiting caregiver, or even a grandchild can be the one dipping into their prescription supply if it is not securely locked away.”
Ms Paulmeno reminded concerned residents who were ready to dispose of expired or unused medications to not throw them away or flush them down the toilet, as they can cause environmental harm, including tainting groundwater supplies.
Ms Carolan said she keeps a supply of alternate disposal kits at the Parent Connection offices, and the Newtown Police Department has a 24-7 secure drop box for residents who want to rid their medicine cabinets of unwanted drugs.
“And because it’s sometimes hard to keep track of a lot of pills in various bottles, we’ve been working with the legislature and drug packaging companies on developing blister packs with each dose of opioids or other controlled drugs being numbered, so it’s easier to see if there are pills missing,” she said.
For caregivers, Ms Paulmeno said it is important to begin noticing if the senior in their care seems to be visiting a lot of different doctors, or they are always complaining that they are running out of medication too early because “they keep falling in the sink or the dog ate them.”
“If you get a lot of that, you might want to consider if there is a problem,” she said.
Fortunately, she said in recent years, legislation has enacted an opioid registry as well as mandated training for medical personnel.
“There are very prominent people who I think very highly of who have fallen prey to this after they used a drug for a very legitimate reason and got hooked on it,” Ms Paulmeno said. “It’s a scary, scary thing.”
While the NPC will continue its day-to-day work over the summer hosting support groups and helping callers connect with addiction intervention programs for their loved ones, Ms Carolan is already planning the agency’s annual Family Fun Night on September 21 and an annual benefit golf tournament October 2 at Oxford Greens in Oxford.
The NPC also recently received a $10,000 grant from AT&T to conduct a public prevention forum for the Town of Fairfield and to underwrite the NPC’s Fairfield Help & Support group, which also meets monthly at their offices in Newtown.