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 victimized for their assets and medications. Still others are themselves addicted to increasingly powerful narcotics used for pain management.
Matty Ponce-de-Leon, pastor of Arlington First Baptist Church in Jonesville, shares with attendees at the Sept. 25 workshop, The Opioid Epidemic and Older Adults.
North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry (NCBAM), which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, 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 him and his wife Alexis with their three children – “the family I almost threw away.” He then shared about his early exposure to drugs before coming to Christ while a resident of Your Father’s House Halfway House in 2006. Ponce-de-Leon now serves on the board of directors for Your Father’s House 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 percent of all of North Carolina’s children were living with their grandparents who, in many cases, are jeopardizing their financial security in order to keep grandchildren out of foster care. Among grandparents’ many sacrifices is the loss of simply “being a grandparent” as they assume the authoritarian role of a parent. Many grandparents have the additional challenge of raising grandchildren born with conditions such as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).
NAS is associated with poor and deteriorating school performance and is caused when a baby withdraws from certain drugs exposed to in the womb.
Other seniors, who may or not be raising their grandchildren are depleting their savings in desperate attempts to help adult children by posting bail, paying legal fees, covering rent and car payments, or financing drug treatment programs. While some seniors willingly offer this help, others are extorted or manipulated by their children. “If you don’t give me your prescription, I’ll have to 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.”
He then outlined a biblical approach to viewing addiction, engaging in spiritual warfare, discipling addicts, and the value of showing trust in the Lord with frequent and fervent prayers for those affected.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Carol Layton serves as director of communications and administration for NCBAM.)