As the opioid addiction epidemic expands, older adults face mounting barriers to getting help for abuse of alcohol and opioid painkillers, not the least of which is finding they are squeezed out of scarce treatment facilities by younger people with prescription drug or heroin habits, reports Stateline. That’s only if they seek help. Many older Americans are reluctant to ask for it out of shame of being an addict at this point in their lives, creating what addiction experts call a silent epidemic. That epidemic distorts the true toll of addiction. Drug-related deaths of the elderly are often undercounted because it’s assumed on death certificates that they died of their age-related illness, not an overdose of pain pills, said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, who runs a New York-based group of treatment centers.
Despite the relatively low number of older adults reported dying from an overdose, a new analysis from Stanford University shows that people covered by Medicare have “among the highest and most rapidly growing prevalence of opioid use disorder.” More than 6 out of every 1,000 Medicare patients are diagnosed with an opioid disorder, compared with 1 of every 1,000 patients covered by commercial insurance plans. Getting treatment can be expensive. Seniors who do seek help find that Medicare does not cover most types of addiction treatment, something advocates have been trying to persuade the federal government to change for years. Low-income seniors who are unable to pay for treatment find few options in 19 states where Medicaid coverage for the poor has not been expanded under the Affordable Care Act to cover able-bodied adults.