Substance abuse in one form or another is very strongly connected to elder abuse. In fact, according to the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, substance abuse is almost always involved in any case of elder abuse. In particular, substance addiction is a common factor in elder abuse that occurs in the victim’s own home, but it is often involved in cases that occur in care facilities too. Depending on the circumstances either the perpetrator or the victim might have a substance addiction; in both cases, this can be an enabling factor for the elder abuse itself.
Drug Addiction Connections to Elder Abuse
In 2002, the California State Office of the Attorney General reported that each year, nearly 200,000 state residents were victims of at least one incident of elder abuse. This figure includes a wide variety of abusive practices that occur in a victim’s home or in a nursing care facility, ranging from theft of money or possessions to physical or emotional harm.
In particular, California has a bad reputation when it comes to long-term senior care facilities. According to the CA OAG, 20% of CA nursing facilities were sub-par in 2005, according to state staffing requirements. In 2006, it was found that nursing home residents in California were twice as likely to be put in restraints as residents in other states. Between 2001 and 2005, 18% of nursing home complaints were found to relate specifically to elder abuse, while more than 50% related to a low standard of care.
Many people believe that prescription drugs tend to be safer simply because they are prescribed by a professional, but unfortunately this is not true at all. Abuse of prescription drugs, especially of narcotics such as vicodin, is just as destructive as that of alcohol and other substances. The long-term effects of vicodin use are serious, and can include liver damage and accidental overdose. Abuse of many prescription drugs can produce similar effects, and older people are particularly vulnerable, due to age-related reduced function of vital organs such as the kidneys and liver, both of which are important in drug metabolism. Why is drug abuse such a prevalent issue when it comes to elder abuse? Wherever the abuse occurs, one reason is that an elderly person who is dependent on one or more drugs is easier to control. This can take the form of both withholding needed medication to force a victim to fall in line with the abuser’s wishes, or by over-medicating a victim so that they need less attentive care.
Sadly, this may be a factor in why, as many doctors believe, certain medications are overused in the treatment of elderly people. In particular, the use of anti psychotic medications in nursing homes has soared, because these drugs help control patients whose dementia sometimes makes them difficult to manage. In places where over-prescribing occurs, it is unfortunately more likely that other forms of abuse, including neglect, are occurring.
What can You do to Help?
If you suspect an older person is being abused, either at a live-in care facility or in their own home, there are some things you can do to help. The non-profit resource HelpGuide notes that you can report an incidence of suspected abuse even if you don’t have proof that abuse is occurring. However, it is important to be as detailed as possible when reporting an incident, including facts such as names, dates, and times whenever possible. When it comes to drug-related abuse in particular, it can be helpful to keep accurate records of doctor’s visits, prescriptions received and filled, and to keep track of how many pills are used and when.
HelpGuide also notes that reporting any new incidents that are witnessed will increase the likelihood that the victim of the abuse will receive the help they need. This is particularly true as it applies to elder abuse in the victim’s own home, but is also important when it occurs in a care facility.
For abuse that occurs in a victim’s own home, the APS is typically the first point of contact. Under California law, all Adult Protective Services agencies must operate a permanent 24-7 hotline, so there is always someone available to help, any time of the day or night. When abuse occurs in an elder care facility, the CA Office of the Attorney General recommends that a person not contact the facility directly. Instead, call your local law enforcement agency, the Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse, or your local Long-Term Care Ombudsman.