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Tackling opioid misuse among older adults

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The majority of older adults take at least one prescription medication daily, and according to 2016 data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than 500,000 Medicare Part D beneficiaries take opioids, with the average dose far exceeding the recommended amount. This can lead to health risks such as breathing complications, confusion, drug interaction problems and increased risk of falls.

To help tackle the issue of opioid misuse in older adults, the Institute for Sustainable Health & Optimal Aging at the University of Louisville has been working with individuals in rural Kentucky who are involved in the institute’s Flourish Program, which is designed to deliver interdisciplinary care coordination to those with chronic conditions.

Of the 154 patients who have received services, medication management issues related to opioid prescriptions and interactions with other medications were a factor with more than 90 patients. Medication safety also proved to be a problem, with family members or caregivers taking opioids from patients in at least 10 percent of cases.

The institute recently received supplemental federal funding to their Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program grant, specifically to expand work in Bullitt, Henry, Oldham, Shelby, Spencer and Trimble counties related to opioids and older adults. This effort also will be offered in Jefferson, Barren, Metcalf and Hart counties.

“This additional funding will allow us to dramatically increase our ability to screen for potential opioid misuse and to educate patients, students and practitioners on best practices for pain management for older adults,” said Dr. Anna Faul, the institute’s executive director.

Dr. Joe D’Ambrosio, the institute’s director of health innovation and sustainability and assistant professor at the UofL School of Medicine, will lead an interdisciplinary clinical team of faculty from nursing, social work and counseling psychology to serve as mental health clinicians for the project.

He said the institute is developing a new program to train students and clinicians on how to identify and treat opioid-related substance abuse among older adults. The programming also will be offered to community mental health partners including Centerstone, the region’s largest mental health care provider.