Agencies working with senior centers on opioid crisis

Older adults are becoming addicted, overdosing or unintentionally giving young people access to pills.

STANWOOD — Barbara Oczkewicz didn’t think that the opioid epidemic people were buzzing about on the news had reached its ugly fingers into her life.

Then she went to a presentation at the Stanwood Community and Senior Center, where she lives as well as volunteers. The topic was opioid use among older adults. Seniors are becoming addicted, overdosing or unintentionally giving younger relatives access to pills.

“I was very naive to it,” said Oczkewicz, 72. “You use what the doctor tells you to and you get better and then you’re done; that’s what I thought. But there are those who don’t.”

She learned that opioid abuse, namely overuse or misuse of prescription pain medication, is a problem among seniors. While the face of the epidemic tends to be young heroin addicts, the reality is that this crisis spans ages and backgrounds. Drug abuse might look different in the older population, but it can be just as dangerous.

That’s why senior centers around Snohomish County are teaching people strategies for recognition and prevention.

At the start of the year, county officials contacted 14 centers, including Stanwood’s.

“They said, ‘We have a problem here,’ ” center director Julie Vess recalled.

Hospital data showed that seniors in Snohomish County were overdosing and updated numbers continue to raise concerns.

There were 100 overdose-related visits to Providence Everett’s emergency department between June 1 and Aug. 31, according to a Snohomish Health District report. While more than half of the patients were between 25 and 40 years old, another 25 were between 41 and 60, and four were older than 60.

Fifteen of the hundred overdoses involved prescription pain medication, either alone or mixed with another substance such as alcohol. Nine of the patients said they were using medicine for chronic pain and three said their use was related to cancer.

“It’s not just the homeless drug addict on the street. It can be anyone,” Vess said. “With the older adult population, it is a significant issue. We need to do everything we can.”

The senior centers agreed to host two educational events each in 2017. They brought in experts such as emergency responders and medical workers. There have been forums, classes and health fairs, as well as “take back” events to safely dispose of unused pills. Plans are in place to train nurses in senior centers on the use of naloxone, also known as Narcan, which can be administered to reverse the effects of an overdose.

Vess doesn’t know of any overdoses at the Stanwood senior center, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened, she said. When residents of the senior apartments call for emergency aid, she doesn’t get details on the type of emergency.

County leaders recently rolled out a plan to treat opioid abuse as a crisis. Coordination is key, said Shari Ireton, spokeswoman for the county sheriff’s office. The response doesn’t necessarily require a lot of additional money, but rather taking inventory of resources and working together to make the most of them.

That means taking a close look at who is affected, young and old.

Oczkewicz has taken pain medication before, for surgeries that were only two months apart. She was wary of the pills and stopped taking them as soon as she was able, she said.

At the presentation in Stanwood, she heard that sometimes patients get multiple prescriptions from different doctors, either on purpose or by accident because they’ve had multiple injuries or surgeries. People might take double doses because their pain seems to be worsening, or they can’t remember whether they took their pills earlier in the day.

“They think, ‘Maybe I’d better take another one just in case. I don’t want to be in pain,’ ” Vess said. “It’s an easy mistake to make.”

Oczkewicz now understands the importance of storing and disposing of medications safely, and of watching for signs that loved ones might have a problem.

“My eyes opened up so I could be aware of other people like family or friends who would be taking dual doses or be on it too long,” she said.

She plans to go to the next presentation, which has yet to be scheduled.

As senior centers finalize budgets and calendars for 2018, the plan is for each to put on at least two more events, Vess said.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439;

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

People look out onto Mountain Loop Mine from the second floor hallway of Fairmount Elementary on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Mining company ordered to stop work next to school south of Everett

After operating months without the right paperwork, OMA Construction applied for permits last week. The county found it still violates code.

Snohomish County Jail. (Sue Misao / Herald file)
Arlington woman arrested in 2005 case of killed baby in Arizona airport

Annie Sue Anderson, 51, has been held in the Snohomish County Jail since December. She’s facing extradition.

A Cessna 150 crashed north of Paine Field on Friday evening, Feb. 16, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. The pilot survived without serious injury. (Courtesy of Richard Newman.)
‘I’m stuck in the trees’: 911 call recounts plane crash near Paine Field

Asad Ali was coming in for a landing in a Cessna 150 when he crashed into woods south of Mukilteo. Then he called 911 — for 48 minutes.

The Nimbus Apartments are pictured on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Snohomish County has the highest rent in the state. Could this bill help?

In one year, rent for the average two-bedroom apartment in Snohomish County went up 20%. A bill seeks to cap any increases at 7%.

A child gets some assistance dancing during Narrow Tarot’s set on the opening night of Fisherman’s Village on Thursday, May 18, 2023, at Lucky Dime in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Drive-By Truckers, Allen Stone headline 2024 Fisherman’s Village lineup

Big names and local legends alike are coming to downtown Everett for the music festival from May 16 to 18.

Sen. Patty Murray attends a meeting at the Everett Fire Department’s Station 1 on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Sen. Murray seeks aid for Snohomish County’s fentanyl, child care crises

The U.S. senator visited Everett to talk with local leaders on Thursday, making stops at the YMCA and a roundtable with the mayor.

Anthony Boggess
Arlington man sentenced for killing roommate who offered shelter

Anthony Boggess, 33, reported hearing the voices of “demons” the night he strangled James Thrower, 65.

Lake Serene in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. (U.S. Forest Service)
How will climate change affect you? New tool gives an educated guess

The Climate Vulnerability Tool outlines climate hazards in Snohomish County — and it may help direct resources.

A cliff above the Pilchuck River shows signs of erosion Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, in Lake Stevens, Washington. Lake Connor Park sits atop the cliff. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Hill erodes in Lake Connor Park, forcing residents of 8 lots to vacate

The park has just under 1,500 members east of Lake Stevens. The riverside hill usually loses 18 inches a year. But it was more this year.

Ken Florczak, president of the five-member board at Sherwood Village Mobile Home community on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024 in Mill Creek, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
How Mill Creek mobile home residents bought the land under their feet

At Sherwood Village, residents are now homeowners. They pay a bit more each month to keep developers from buying their property.

The I-5, Highway 529 and the BNSF railroad bridges cross over Union Slough as the main roadways for north and southbound traffic between Everett and Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
As 4-month closure looms, Highway 529 bridge to briefly close Sunday

The northbound section of the Snohomish River Bridge will be closed 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The monthslong closure is slated for mid-May.

Ninth-grade program gets money, initiatives to get hearings

It’s day 47, here is what’s happening in the Legislature.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.