Skip to content

New Outpatient Service Treats Seniors with Substance Abuse Problems

Odyssey House ElderCare Outpatient Program addresses `hidden epidemic’ of drug and alcohol abuse among older Americans. Innovative program made possible by $200,000 grant from The Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation.


Latest U.S. census report predicts people 65 years and older will, for the next 25 years, be the country’s fastest growing age group. Within this population are unprecedented numbers of individuals in need of substance abuse services – a group so overlooked and underserved that researchers call it a “hidden epidemic.”

In New York State alone, the number of people 60 years of age and older admitted to treatment programs is growing 20 percent a year. Keeping up with the demand for services is a challenge for communities throughout New York. In 2000, only 13,500 elders received some treatment for drug abuse, a small proportion of the 630,000 older New Yorkers (approximately 17 percent of New York’s elderly population of 3.7 million people) who have an alcohol or drug problem.

Efforts to meet these needs, however, are underway. The latest, and one of the most innovative, is Odyssey House’s ElderCare Outpatient Program. Located in a high-need section of the South Bronx, this new program will fill two important community goals:

• increasing access to substance abuse treatment for older individuals who are currently underserved, and

• providing a continuum of care for seniors who are transitioning from the Odyssey House ElderCare residential program in East Harlem.

Because many elderly people are at risk of being cut off from their communities as they age, the treatment focus of the ElderCare Outpatient Program is to encourage isolated older people to develop a social support network among their peers in recovery; provide them with individual and group therapy; and as necessary visit them in their homes. Counselors trained in geriatric care will develop individualized treatment plans incorporating age-related individual and group therapies targeting symptoms of depression and anxiety, bereavement counseling and life planning, and facilitate access to primary medical care.

Dr. Peter Provet, President of Odyssey House, said today: “We are very grateful to the Samuels Foundation for their support of this initiative. Through their partnership we are able to offer a neglected and overlooked population of ageing New Yorkers a new level of service in substance abuse treatment.

“Many of the men and women enrolled in this program suffer from serious medical conditions such as hypertension, asthma, diabetes, and heart disease which are exacerbated by drug abuse. Providing comprehensive services that incorporate medical care and substance abuse treatment for older people in a residential setting is expensive and, because of a nationwide shortage of treatment beds, in limited supply.

“We are confident that our new outpatient treatment model will not only save the lives of hundreds of vulnerable older New Yorkers who are suffering from drug abuse-related problems, it will also produce significant savings for taxpayers by helping people who would otherwise have to enter a nursing home, live in their own homes.”

Mr. Marvin A. Kaufman, Chairman of the Samuels Foundation, said his board is delighted to be able to support Odyssey House’s ElderCare Outpatient Program. “The mission of the Foundation’s health care program is to improve the health care and overall quality of life for the elderly of New York City. We do this by providing support for innovative, effective, efficient and caring organizations like Odyssey House.

“Our success is measured by the positive impact the program has on people’s lives. We firmly believe Odyssey House’s patient-based service will directly help the elderly of New York City overcome substance abuse problems.”

Track record in treating senior substance abusers

Odyssey House has established a track record in meeting the needs of this overlooked and underserved population. In 1997, the agency created the first-ever residential treatment program dedicated to meeting the needs of older substance abusers.

Since it was established with the help of an innovative private supporter, the Rosenback Foundation, in tandem with the NY State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, the Odyssey House ElderCare residential program has grown from 40 beds to more than 70 and has provided comprehensive substance abuse and mental health treatment, vocational, educational, and housing services to more than 250 older addicts.

Odyssey House also supports research efforts aimed at understanding the needs of elderly substance abusers and in establishing new evidence-based treatment protocols to meet their lifestage challenges. Recent Odyssey House-sponsored studies looking into the substance abuse histories of the men and women in treatment found significant differences in choice of drugs of abuse, impact on the individual’s health and social well-being, and length of use.

Located in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx, at 953 Southern Boulevard, the new ElderCare Outpatient Program is easily accessible via public transportation. Client services will be offered in English and Spanish. Further information on the program is available by calling: 718-860-2994, or visit online.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share this post with your friends!