Nursing Home Substance Abuse

Sep 23, 2016

There is a common misconception that substance abuse is not a factor among people who are elderly or disabled. The fact is, nursing home substance abuse is a very real consideration, and one that is gaining increasing attention. Many nursing homes fail to address issues like substance abuse when they admit residents or create care plans. What’s more, some nursing homes fail to realize the importance of proper care and maintenance for these individuals, which can result in neglect or abuse.

Nursing Home Substance Abuse

Nursing Home Negligence and Substance Abuse Example

Consider, for example, a story that hit the media in September 2016 after a 43-year-old nursing home resident died from a Fentanyl overdose after being released from a Massachusetts nursing home. The man’s death came after seven months living in a nursing home following amputation of his left leg. According to his family, the recovering heroin addict had been given increasing doses of opioid medication while at the nursing home, and was not being provided substance abuse counseling.

Substance Abuse Across the Ages

Substance abuse touches every demographic, including elderly, disabled, and injured people. These individuals have the right to as much care and treatment as anyone else – a right which many believe is not being upheld. Cases like the one mentioned above are causing researchers and lawmakers to reassess what is being done to help individuals with substance abuse when they are living in nursing homes.

In July 2015, researchers at the federal Office of the Inspector General (OIG) discovered that millions of Americans are prescribed opioids through Medicare every year after age 65 – opioids that are commonly abused in the U.S. In fact, the OIG estimated that as many as one-third of all Medicare recipients had a prescription for opioids in 2015. Consider the following statistics about substance abuse among older Americans:

  • From 2002 to 2011, the number of adults 50-59 who abused illicit drugs increased from 2.7 percent to 6.3 percent.
  • It is estimated that 14-20 percent of the elderly population suffer from substance abuse or a mental disorder.
  • Among adults 65 and over, 8.3 percent admit to binge drinking, while two percent admit to heavy drinking.
  • Alcohol, opiates, cocaine, and marijuana are the most commonly abused substances by elderly Americans. This is followed by benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety and anti-depressants) and sleeping pills.
  • Women outnumber men in terms of abusing prescription medications, with 44 and 23 percent respectively estimated to use prescription drugs for non-medical use.

Importance of Substance Abuse Treatment in Nursing Homes

Substance abuse treatment is a serious concern for nursing homes all across the U.S. Between 2010 and 2030, the population of Americans over 65 is estimated to rise to 72.1 million. As the “baby boomer” demographic considers long-term care, nursing homes, and Medicare benefits, it is more important than ever that nursing homes prepare for managing the population who will, undoubtedly, include individuals who are addicted to alcohol or drugs.

Unfortunately, most nursing homes are ill-prepared for such residents, or because they are unsure of federal regulations, they simply deny individuals with substance abuse problems. Then there are cases of nursing home negligence where the nursing home simply fails to uphold its legal and ethical obligations. So what are families to do when they need additional support?

Support for Families Touched by Substance Abuse

If you are looking for a nursing home for an elderly loved one, and you know that he or she is battling addiction or substance abuse, you may be lost at where to begin. No one wants to consider that nursing home negligence or abuse could touch their lives, but it is a very real concern. How do you filter through the numerous possibilities, screen potential caregivers, and ensure that your loved one is getting the care he or she deserves? Here are some helpful tips that may help you answer these questions, feel more confident about your search, and get you the help you need:

  • Full Disclosure – When you meet with a prospective nursing home, fully disclose your situation and your loved one’s needs. Not only is this best in order to ensure that the facility can accommodate your loved one, but it could avoid a potential nightmare if you withhold uncomfortable information and then your loved one is evicted because of their situation. Always fully disclose situations like:
    • A loved one who self-medicates with alcohol, marijuana, or other substances (advisable if the substances are illegal or not).
    • A loved one who is current in counseling, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), or a rehabilitation program.
    • A loved one with a history of falls when taking certain medications, or while consuming alcohol.
    • A loved one with a history of depression, personality disorder, or mental health conditions.
  • Community Support – Just because you disclosed your situation does not mean that a nursing home can or will accept your loved one as a resident. If you are unsuccessful in your search, consider utilizing community support options. Some of the most utilized organizations include:
    • The Agency on Aging
    • Long-Term Care Ombudsman
    • American Health Care Association
    • The Consumer Consortium on Assisted Living
  • Legal Support – Any time you feel like your loved one’s rights have been violated – be it through nursing home negligence, unlawful eviction, or abuse of any kind, you may also find it helpful to speak with a nursing home abuse attorney. These specialized attorneys can help you understand your loved one’s legal rights, and are excellent advocates to ensure your loved one is properly cared for. In the event that your situation warrants legal action, attorneys who specialize in nursing home negligence are a valuable asset in protecting your rights and seeking justice.