Older adults are not immune to the opioid epidemic — not by a long shot. Many find themselves raising grandchildren or caring for adult children in addiction. Others are victim- ized for their assets and medications. Still others are themselves addicted to increasingly powerful narcotics used for pain management.
North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry (NCBAM) recently hosted a workshop in Thomasville to educate senior adult church leaders about the epidemic and the many ways that seniors can be affected. The workshop was presented by Matty Ponce-de-Leon, pastor of Arlington First Baptist Church in Jonesville.
Ponce-de-Leon began his presentation by showing a family portrait of he and his wife Alexis with their three children –– “the family I almost threw away.” He then shared about his early ex- posure to drugs before coming to Christ while a resident of Your Father’s House in 2006. Ponce- de-Leon now serves on the board of directors for the halfway house and ministry.
Ponce-de-Leon shared alarming statistics for North Carolina. Our state ranks on the edge of the highest per capita prescribing areas in the country. Nationwide in 2017, there were 58.7 opioid prescriptions written per 100 people. In North Carolina, 72 opioid prescriptions were written for every 100 individuals.
Just one of the many ways the epidemic affects older adults is that many seniors are raising their grandchildren for parents who are in treatment, in addiction, in jail, or in their graves from an overdose. In 2018, 7.8% of all of North Carolina’s children were living with their grandparents who in take a street drug.”
Seniors whose own families are not affected by the epidemic need to be aware that strangers, neighbors, or others may target them. Ponce-de- Leon reported that addicts sometimes hang out near prescription counters and then rob people in the parking lot or follow them home. Handymen may ask to use the bathroom for the purpose of pilfering medicine cabinets and walking away with unused or expired opioids, cough syrup, or other narcotics.
Perhaps most alarming, Ponce-de-Leon shared a conversation with a hospice chaplain who had seen end-of-life medications stolen by family members and other cases where patients were kept at home rather than in a hospital for the purpose of having access to their medications. Ponce-de-Leon urged seniors to carefully choose their healthcare power of attorney.
After sharing alarming statistics and stories, Ponce-de-Leon acknowledged there are many in our churches who feel they “just can’t relate” to the troubling issues of addiction. He was blunt. “We’re going to have to. Too many lives are being lost and destroyed for the church not to step into the battle.”
Do you have questions? NCBAM Call Center Specialists are available by calling 877-506-2226 Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
Article Written by Carol Layton, NCBAM Director of Communications & Administration