Centers step up to educate seniors about opioid addiction

EVERETT — It’s a myth that abuse of opioid painkillers is just a problem among young people.

A recent study reported in The New York Times found that prescriptions for opiate painkillers, sleep and psychiatric medications had increased nearly 150 percent between 2004 and 2013 among those 65 and older.

Senior centers throughout Snohomish County are scheduling sessions to help older adults learn more about the potential for addiction to prescription pain pills.

“There is an opioid epidemic in Snohomish County,” said Julie Vess, director of the Stanwood Community and Senior Center. “We wanted to get on board with finding ways to combat the problem.”

The center, at 7430 276th St. NW in Stanwood, has scheduled an information session beginning at 10 a.m. Friday. It will include a discussion on living with chronic pain and the appropriate use of opioids.

In Snohomish County, opioid addiction has become widespread.

In January, the city of Everett filed suit against Purdue Pharma, the company that makes OxyContin, alleging it knew it was supplying drug traffickers and flooding the black market with the potent pain medication, but chose to ignore the rampant diversion to maximize the company’s profits.

As part of the efforts to battle the opioid addiction problem, county government is requiring senior centers to schedule information sessions to receive some of the one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax money set aside for mental health and drug and alcohol programs.

Some of the problems older adults have with pain relievers come from not knowing how to use them appropriately, said Cammy Hart-Anderson, a manager in the county’s Human Services Department.

“People working with the senior population run into clients who’ve got three weeks to go before they can get their opioid prescriptions refilled and they’ve already used all their allotment of medication,” she said.

Studies show alcohol and opioids are the two primary drugs abused by older adults, she said.

The use of prescription painkillers, sometimes used for treating chronic pain, has increased as the wave of baby boomers hits retirement age.

Farrell Fleming, executive director for the Edmonds Senior Center, said chronic pain is a common problem among people coming to the center.

He said he’s heard stories of a spouse with severe pain becoming addicted to pain medications. When those prescriptions are no longer available, in some cases heroin becomes the substitute of choice, he said.

Having supplies of powerful prescription painkillers also provides the opportunity for the medications to be stolen. Some older adults may not understand the danger.

“I don’t think they realize the street value of Oxycodone,” he said.

“The problem is gigantic. “We’re eager to do what we can.”

Senior centers also are planning to organize drug take-back events this year.

A countywide program, which will establish dozens of collection sites for people to safely dispose of unused pain and other medications, is expected to kick off this summer, said Heather Thomas, a Snohomish Health District spokeswoman.

In Arlington, the Stillaguamish Senior Center is planning its information session on opiate medications and addiction from 4 to 6 p.m. May 23.

The center, at 18308 Smokey Point Blvd., also houses the Arlington Community Resource Center.

“That brought into focus the need for opiate education and how it affects younger and older people,” said Adele Erbeck, a community outreach employee at the senior center.

A Michigan State University study found that 14- and 15-year-olds were two to three times more likely to become addicted to opioids within a year after their nonmedical use.

Such trends underscore the need to make the Arlington event intergenerational, Erbeck said.

“Opioid addiction is huge and the the tragic circumstances that often happen with it,” Erbeck said. “These are the kinds of things we need to being talking about — the issues of the day.”

Sharon Salyer; 425-339-3486;

Information sessions

A series of information sessions are being scheduled at senior centers throughout Snohomish County on the potential for abuse of opiate pain killers. A session is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Friday at the Stanwood Community and Senior Center, 7430 276th St. NW.

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