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Is Substance Abuse in Nursing Homes a Real Threat?

Nursing home abuse attorneys get asked all sorts of questions about what is and is not acceptable in nursing homes.  Recently, one particular question has been on the minds of many families and lawmakers alike:  Is substance abuse in nursing homes a real threat? Many people find it difficult to imagine an elderly or disabled loved one abusing medication or illicit drugs, but the truth is, substance abuse is as much of a threat to nursing home residents as any other demographic.

Is Substance Abuse in Nursing Homes a Real Threat?

Facts About Nursing Home Populations

The population of nursing home residents is not restricted to elderly individuals, but may also include many younger individuals who are in rehabilitation, or who are disabled.  In 2013, the Nursing Home Data Compendium estimated that 15 percent of the 1.4 million nursing home residents in the United States are under 65 years old.

With a range of ages, physical and mental health needs, and interests, nursing homes are as much “melting pots” of diversity as any other culture in our society.  Consider, for example, a recent report which identified five heroin overdoses at a single Chicago nursing home.  The overdose victims ranged in age from 33 to 60 years old.

Within nursing homes, a wide range of ages can result in several risk factors that can negatively impact residents and their health.  Elderly residents and younger residents have very different needs in terms of care.  Elderly residents require a great deal of specialized medical care and supervision, while younger residents may need more attention to socialization or behavior.  If nursing homes are not properly staffed and trained, it may be impossible for all age and need levels to get the care they really need.

Another concern is the environment in nursing homes.  Most nursing homes are geared toward older adults, their interests and needs.  This can lead to younger residents feeling resentful, restless, or lonely.  These emotions coupled with physical or mental disability can easily result in negative attitudes and behavior, and are clear risk factors for substance abuse.

Facts About Substance Abuse in Nursing Homes

Substance abuse among nursing home residents is a concern for many reasons.  As mentioned above, nursing home residents are vulnerable, and may be susceptible to extreme physical or emotional stressors.  Another reason why substance abuse is a concern is because there are millions of Americans receiving Medicaid or Medicare who are regularly prescribed medications that can be dangerous if not administered or monitored properly.

Without proper monitoring and administration, medications designed to help residents may do more harm than good.  When coupled with mental or emotional challenges, alcohol or other drug use, substance abuse is a very serious threat to the health and longevity of nursing home residents.

Consider the following information about substance abuse and nursing home residents:

  • In 1998, alcohol and prescription drug abuse among Americans 60 and older was considered one of the “fastest growing health problems” in the S.
  • In general, research suggests that many nursing home administrators and staff are not knowledgeable about substance abuse or mental health issues in
  • Estimates suggest that as many as 20 percent of older Americans suffer from a mental health disorder or substance abuse
  • The number of adults ages 50-59 abusing illicit drugs increased 7 percent between 2002 and 2011.
  • The substances most commonly abused by older Americans include alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, opiates, and benzodiazepines (anti-depressants).
  • Most nursing homes do not have substance abuse programs on-site, and few have stable referral programs for short-term residents who will be released back into the

A Multi-Million Person Problem

The issue of substance abuse in nursing homes is no small matter.  By 2030, the population of Americans over 65 is slated to increase to 72.1 million.  Add to that the estimated 57.7 million people estimated to have a diagnosable mental health disorder, and the problem of substance abuse is staggering.  Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to the problem at present.

What Can Be Done?

Lawmakers and advocates are working tirelessly to address the problem of substance abuse in nursing homes.  Nursing home residents have the same rights to quality care and a happy, healthy existence as anyone else in society.  When these rights are violated, a potentially solvable problem becomes something dangerous and even life-threatening.  So, what can be done?

Consider the following ways that nursing homes could better equip themselves for individuals who are abusing (or may abuse) substances, those with mental health issues, or those requiring specialized care:

  • Hire and train staff members who have a clean criminal record and mental health history, and have no history of substance
  • Train all staff members to recognize the signs of substance abuse, address them with nurses and administrators, and be prepared in the event of an overdose or health
  • Monitor all prescription drugs being managed by on-site healthcare  Keep good records and be accountable for medication administration.
  • Encourage residents to use medication properly and get help if they have questions or
  • Consider the addition of on-site substance abuse programs and care for residents of all ages.  Work with programs in the community to help residents transition from the nursing home to community life.

If you are considering placing a loved one in a nursing home, consider these methods and whether the prospective nursing home has such measures already in place.  You can learn a great deal about the care your loved one will receive by investigating the structure, staff, and programs for physical and mental health offered.

If at any time you feel that your loved one is receiving substandard care or is being abused or neglected, you also should contact a nursing home abuse attorney.  Your loved one has the right to quality care, and you have the right to explore your legal options to ensure that they receive it.

Contact Brown, Christie & Green to learn more about the ways you can help your loved one get the care that he or she deserves in order to live a long, healthy, happy life.  To schedule your free case review, call our office or fill out the form on your screen.