Opioid-Related Crime Takes Toll On Older People Across NC

March 21, 2018

Back in 2016, four North Carolina cities were identified in a healthcare consulting firm’s report as, by the study’s measures, among four of the top 25 cities in the nation for opioid abuse. Fast forward two years to 2018, and the spotlight turns to age—North Carolina’s opioid epidemic is putting a major burden on our state’s older residents.


The story of the opioid epidemic in NC has created a burden on our state’s older residents, and when we get down to the root cause of “why?” there are a few factors at play—from matters out of older residents’ control (theft and fraud) to, surprisingly, matters in their control (selling the drugs, knowingly or unknowingly, for extra cash).

Intentions aside, there’s work to be done to educate, inform and take action.

Theft and fraud

The first trend we can identify, according to NC Health News: theft and fraud of older residents’ prescription opioids. While the number of crimes isn’t fully known, “those who work with seniors say crimes include financial fraud and theft of drugs, often in settings that include long-term care centers.”

Older people often wind up as victims. Dealers and scam artists know that older people are likely to have prescriptions and money. People with dementia are easier to deceive or rob.

The surprising realization here is that abuse often starts with friends and family. To add to that, NC Health News reports, “Family members and friends are the sources for two-thirds of people abusing prescription meds.”

Strapped for cash

A second focus of the NC Health News coverage points to "wildly reported trends" that some older residents are selling their medications for extra cash. This could stem from their need to finance late-in-life costs, and it happens in two scenarios: older folks know it’s a problem (they still need the cash) or they're unaware that it’s an issue (they may not know that it’s highly illegal).

A new generation of older people may be crunched for cash because they never returned to pre-recession salaries, [they] lack a defined benefit pension or, for whatever reason, [they] have low incomes in retirement.

NC Health News continues:

Scenario one: “Oftentimes, they are in positions where they are choosing between food and oil [or] selling their meds.”

Scenario two: “Another thing that happens that they don’t even think of as a problem—you hear about people trading medication with their neighbors. They don’t have any idea that it’s highly illegal. They’ll say, ‘Oh, sure, it calms my nerves; have some of these.’”

Opioid crisis in NC: who else is affected?

Some older people become addicted to pain meds themselves. (And doctors are often less likely to press an older person about his or her need for the drugs.) But this crisis affects more than just the older residents themselves. Families, law enforcement and social services are also feeling the harsh effects of the burden, according to NC Health News.

“Nearly every area of local government is affected by the opioid crisis,” Pitt County Manager Scott Elliott said at a late 2017 conference on substance abuse.

Ways to help

Lock it up. For older residents, locking up medications isn’t a bad idea.

Participate in a local forum. In late 2017, the Pitt County Board of Commissioners held a tailored community meeting to gather local elected leaders to discuss the opioid epidemic and focus on prevention, education and treatment in their county. Over 100 counties in NC have been asked to hold similar forums. Has there been a similar community meeting on opioid abuse in your county?

Support a nonprofit or community-driven movement. As North Carolinians strive to battle this crisis, nonprofits and community-driven movements are making headway. Project Lazarus in Wilkes County partners with organizations to, among other things, keep painkillers off the streets for resale. See how you can get involved to bring the issues of opioids and the elderly to the minds of these organizations.

Keep up with legislation. In early 2018, the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention Act—or the STOP Act—made headlines. Among other requirements, the act requires physicians and pharmacies to take additional steps when prescribing a targeted, controlled substance. For example, pharmacies are no longer allowed to fill written or electronic prescriptions that are more than six months old. Stay informed by following the legislation around opioids in North Carolina.

Spread the word. If we can inform and educate older residents on the trends of opioids in North Carolina, we can start to identify solutions and a path forward.

See more coverage at NC Health News.

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