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Illegal Drug Use: A Hidden — and Growing — Problem Among Older Americans

Newhouse News Service By Chuck McCutcheon


Crime and Punishment


The five men seated around a basement table, trading talk about grandchildren and doctors’ bills, could be mistaken for ordinary retirees. But then they tell their stories:

“I started taking crack when I was 56.”

“I had my first sniff of heroin in 1968 — my last one was in November.”

“I came into drugs when I was 48 years old. Little did I know I was going to get hooked on heroin.”

All are in Odyssey House, a private nonprofit rehabilitation center in New York City, to deal with what experts on aging and substance abuse describe as an overlooked and growing problem — addiction to illegal drugs among older Americans.

With rehabilitation efforts generally aimed at younger addicts, experts say most older users of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and other narcotics do not get the help they need, even though their health is more frail.

Instead, they say, treatment services dismiss older addicts as beyond hope and unworthy of care. At the same time, family and friends frequently are in denial about their usage, regarding it as dementia, depression or simply a slip-up.

“This is a terrifically hidden problem,” said John Benshoff, a drug rehabilitation counselor and researcher at Southern Illinois University. “People don’t want to believe Grandma is smoking crack cocaine.”

(Newhouse News Service has since closed its operation. Link to full story no longer active.)


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