Addiction in the elderly…

When the phone call came, “Donna” was stunned. Her elderly father had taken an overdose of his pain medication and been found unconscious in his apartment—again. He was in the hospital being treated for a drug overdose—also again.

“My father is a drug addict,” Rabbi Saulson, she told me on the phone, crying.  “I don’t know what to do.”

Desperate to believe in her dad, Donna had thought he’d meant it when he’d told her last month that he’d stopped taking the morphine to which he’d become addicted – days after he’d totaled his car after taking too many pain pills and driving himself to the grocery store late one night.  “But I’m in pain!” he’d  wailed to her when she’d stormed his house and taken the pills away from him herself later that week, thinking the absence of the offending pills alone would eradicate this complicated problem of addiction in the elderly.

When Donna’s father began showing up at her home at all hours of the day and night and begging for pain medication in front of her young children, she knew she was in over her head. She didn’t know whom to blame, the doctors who kept prescribing the narcotics to her father when he clearly was over-using them, or her father, who couldn’t be trusted with his prescription.

“I thought this was a problem for the young,” she said to me.

Sadly, drug addiction in the elderly is a growing problem, as people are living longer lives with more afflictions and a greater need for medical intervention. Narcotic pain medication is an effective treatment for a very real problem – pain – but its use must be managed cautiously and judiciously, something not all doctors have the time or the inclination to do in their bustling medical practices.

I met with Donna, and we came up with the following plan to help her with her father’s situation:

She was to get her father’s medical records and have her father evaluated by a well-respected pain doctor – one who specializes in chronic pain in the elderly.

Ties were to be severed with the offending medical practice and practitioner.

After much debate, we agreed that it was time to have Donna’s father moved from the independent care side of his housing arrangement to the assisted care side of his housing plan, where medications were always administered by the staff and not by the patient.

I began meeting weekly with Donna, helping her talk openly about the guilt and difficulties associated with being a member of the “middle ages,” more commonly known as the “sandwich generation.” Most of all, I tried to instill in her the knowledge that her father is receiving the best care available to him, and that the best thing she can do for him and his future is to take good of herself today.

Do you have an elderly loved one who may be battling an addiction? I am here to help. Contact me through my blog or my website, anytime.

Best wishes,


[Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.]

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