Deaths among young adults are used to illustrate the tragedy of the opioid epidemic, but addiction to these powerful pain relievers and the problems they create are as prevalent in seniors. Not all recovery programs, however, are prepared to meet the unique physical and psychosocial needs of older adults and with a growing population of Americans over 60, the time has come to take a closer look at how age affects both addiction and treatment.
Addiction in the Older Generation
The pathway to addiction is similar for all age groups, but seniors face additional risks. Social factors contributing to opiate abuse such as increased isolation and the death of a spouse increase, while the physical signs of drug dependency become harder to detect. Symptoms that suggest someone may have an opiate addiction, such as changes in mood, impaired memory and tremor, are often chalked up to age, and because the older body metabolizes drugs more slowly, the amount of opiate needed to produce unwanted effects is smaller and less suspicious to family and friends.
Seniors also tend to have preexisting conditions that can be made worse with opiates, and some take medications that magnify their side effects. Separating the symptoms of illness, age and polypharmacy from the effects of opioids is challenging for both addiction detection and treatment.
Addiction Treatment in Older Adults
From pharmacological therapy and behavioral approaches to the general treatment environment and sensory concerns, the best addiction recovery programs for seniors are necessarily geared toward meeting their unique needs. Doctors are trained to address dependency in medically-complex older adults, and they understand how to best apply pharmacological therapies. Behavioral counseling is individualized or offered in small groups where less sensory input enhances focus, and therapeutic approaches respect clients’ learning needs and extensive life experiences.
Physically, the majority of seniors have some impairment in vision and hearing. Written materials should feature larger print, and speakers must adapt their tone and volume. To accommodate older adults with limited mobility, treatment centers for seniors are adaptive equipment-friendly, and most provide physical assistance when necessary.
Seniors struggling with addiction need support. Some are embarrassed to admit they have a problem, while others fear managing chronic pain without drugs. The good news is that with an age-sensitive approach, successful treatment is possible.
Lorne Cross, MD is a healthcare professional from Portland, Oregon, who specializes in Addiction Medicine. It’s no secret that the United States is facing an opioid crisis. There are more lives lost to overdose deaths each year than were lost in the entire Vietnam War, and new data shows that opioids now kill more people each year than breast cancer. Understanding and treating the opioid crisis is of utmost importance to this country, and Dr. Cross has chosen to specialize in Addiction Medicine and focus all of his professional attention on this critical problem.
As the Medical Director of the Willamette Valley Treatment Center, Dr. Cross is the leader of a team that provides Medication Assisted Treatment to patients with Opioid Use Disorder. Lorne Cross, MD also serves as the Medical Director of a new Opioid Treatment Program in the Yamhill County Jail. Focusing on the treatment of opiate addiction, rather than punishment, can help to prevent relapse, decrease the rate of overdose deaths, and help to lower recidivism in the jail population, putting inmates on the right path upon release. Giving patients a path to recovery ultimately sets them up for more success in their futures.
Dr. Cross is hopeful as he looks into the future of treatment opportunities for opiate addiction. He sees the expansion of treatment into jails and prisons as a necessary step towards treating the opioid crisis and preventing unnecessary overdose deaths. Treating addiction with a rehabilitative approach is one of the best ways to reach out to those who truly need it most.
Senior Medical School Class Officer
Scholastic Honors Program Graduate
John Philip Sousa Award 1988
Years' Experience in Healthcare
Years Serving as a Major in the U.S. Army Reserve
Published Research Articles
From the time he was a child, Lorne Cross, MD was always fascinated by medicine and the natural sciences. By the time he reached college he knew he wanted to attend medical school and pursue his medical degree. He graduated in the top third of his class from Loma Linda University School of Medicine and completed his medicine internship and his anesthesiology residency at Loma Linda University Medical Center. Loma Linda University is a coeducational health sciences university located in California. He is also a Magna Cum Laude graduate of the Scholastic Honors Program at Southwestern Adventist College, where he earned his Bachelor of Science in Biology. Southwestern Adventist College is a small college, with an undergraduate enrollment of around 800 students, located in Texas.
Outside of work, Lorne Cross, MD likes to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle. He is an avid cyclist and bicycle racer, while actively pursuing many other sports. Outside of spending time exercising, he also loves to travel to new locations and spend time with his two teenage children and family.