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Secretary Cohen Highlights Opioid Misuse Among Aging, Vulnerable Adults

Secretary Mandy Cohen speaks during a seminar addressing opioid misuse in aging and vulnerable adults.

Secretary Mandy Cohen speaks during a seminar addressing opioid misuse in aging and vulnerable adults.

DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen recently highlighted the issue of opioid misuse in aging and vulnerable adults.

“Many older adults have chronic pain,” Cohen said at a day-long training seminar for county departments of social services and addiction professionals on Nov. 7 at N.C. State University’s McKimmon Center. “In order to help treat pain, opioids can be important, but we need to be explicit about the risks of opioids in older adults. It can increase confusion, constipation, falls and delirium — aside from addiction. In some situations, we should consider alternative pain management tools.”

The Secretary’s speech was part of a seminar held for professionals in the fields of Adult Protective Services, guardianship social work and addiction. It aimed to develop a basic knowledge of issues, challenges and opportunities surrounding the opioid crisis that particularly affect aging and vulnerable adults and their families.The training focused on the effects of opioid misuse, prevention and treatment resources, and the importance of community partnerships. 

Many aging adults have multiple chronic conditions, like diabetes or high blood pressure. Opioids can treat that pain, helping aging adults keep their independence, but it puts them at a higher risk for misuse and addiction.

“Events such as this are critical in providing the tools, information and local connections we need to turn the tide on this crisis,” said Suzanne Merrill, Director of DHHS’ Division of Aging and Adults Services.

The seminar also introduced Lock Your Meds, a statewide educational campaign aimed at preventing prescription drug abuse by keeping medicines safely locked away. Research shows that 67 percent of people who misuse prescriptions get them from family and friends. Vulnerable adults can become accidental dealers when they leave their prescriptions where other family members can access them. 


Ryan Hill