Combatting Opioid Abuse and Elder Abuse – a Model Initiative

At the very first meeting of the Woburn Elder Abuse Prevention Task Force in 2014, several older adults who attended the meeting identified heroin addiction as the most important elder abuse issue.  Since that meeting the Task Force has made the opioid crisis and its connection to elder abuse a top priority.  One important partner in this effort has been HEAT –the Heroin Education Awareness Task Force which is run out of Woburn District Court. In addressing the opioid epidemic that has hit Massachusetts particularly hard, HEAT and other members of the Task Force have made the connection between substance abuse, younger family members raiding their parents and grandparents’ medicine cabinets, and all forms of elder abuse.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, over 46,000 Americans die each year from drug related deaths and more than half of these are from heroin and prescription opioids.   Four out of five new heroin users start with prescription medications, with the majority obtained from family and friends, including the home medicine cabinet.  This is the exact pattern that Task Force members have been seeing in their community.

In response to this crisis, Judy Tanner, the Programs Director of the Woburn Senior Center, developed an innovative program, a “Drug Take Back Day” in partnership with the Woburn Police Department and the Woburn Substance Abuse Program Coordinator.  The “Drug Take Back Day” is held monthly at the Woburn Senior Center and helps to prevent drugs from getting into the hands of others by ridding the home medicine cabinet of expired or unwanted prescription medications and over the counter drugs.

In October 2015, Judy had the Woburn Substance Abuse Program Coordinator provide an informative presentation at the Woburn Senior Center and the monthly program began in November 2015.  In a short period of time it has already resulted in a vast number of expired and unwanted medications brought in for proper disposal.  Some of the medications turned in expired many years prior and have languished in the seniors’ medicine cabinets.  By focusing on the monthly “Drug Take Back” project, multiple seniors have been inspired to rid their cabinets of unwanted and expired medications and have an increased awareness of the connection between substance abuse and their personal safety and financial security.  The success of this program has led to additional programming on this important issue including a “Medication Safety” presentation planned for March 2016 at the Woburn Senior Center with the Regional Center for Poison Control.

The Woburn Elder Abuse Prevention Task Force’s efforts to tackle both opioid abuse and elder abuse are another wonderful example of how community coalitions are in the best position to identify issues that are important to the older adults in their community and to utilize personal trust relationships in their communities to successfully respond to elder abuse.  Kudos to Judy Tanner and the other members of the Task Force for their amazing work!

One thought on “Combatting Opioid Abuse and Elder Abuse – a Model Initiative

  1. Thanks for sharing this innovative program. Pain is an issue for seniors–often unreported or resulting in over prescribing medications. With the number of medications that seniors take, it’s easy to confuse pain meds with other daily medications, causing resulting confusion in what to take, when to take and how to take it. There are new initiatives that would allow for a lesser prescription amount–ensuring more MD and pharmacy oversight. Another option is to ask a pharmacy to prepackage medications and then mail/deliver a one week supply to the house. Hope this information helps.


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