Assemblyman Englebright & Assemblyman Dinowitz Introduce Geriatric Chemical Dependency Act

Chairs of Aging & Substance Abuse Committees Aim to Combat Growing Problem

Assemblyman Steven Englebright, Chair of the Committee on Aging, and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, Chair of the Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, will be joined by seniors citizens, senior citizen advocates, legislators, providers of services and academic researchers to announce the introduction of landmark legislation “The Geriatric Chemical Dependency Act.”

This year marks the beginning of the baby boom generation turning into the senior boom population where over the next 10 years, the number individuals age 60 and older in New York will grow from 3.2 million to 4.7 million. Misuse and abuse of alcohol and prescribed and over-the-counter drugs, is currently, and will continue to be, a serious health problem among older Americans, currently affecting up to seventeen percent of adults aged sixty and older. Increased access to prescription drugs increases the possibility of prescription drug misuse and abuse. Moreover, the increase of illegal drug use among older Americans is on the rise because illicit drug users are living longer.

In New York State, approximately half a million adults over the age of 60 suffer from some form of substance abuse or misuse. Yet many seniors suffering from chemical dependence or abuse are not diagnosed, and those that are diagnosed often are not being appropriately treated for their chemical dependence issues.

There exist multiple barriers that hinder the diagnosis and treatment of this population, including the fact that symptoms of chemical dependence can mimic medical and behavioral disorders common to older adults, seniors are often resistant to discuss chemical dependence problems due to stigma, and managed care plans are increasingly limiting the provision of behavioral healthcare services to Medicare patients. Furthermore, older adults do not fit well within current chemical dependence treatment programs, which are primarily geared toward a younger population.

The underdiagnosis of geriatric chemical dependence problems and the lack of appropriate care for this vulnerable population is compounded by little or no geriatric-specific training for chemical dependence counselors, mental health practitioners, primary care physicians and community-based senior service providers. In preparation for the enormous growth of the senior population in New York State, a comprehensive, coordinated approach to recognizing and effectively treating chemical dependence among seniors is essential both in the short and the long-term.

This landmark legislation, A.11243, would provide grants to providers for the purpose of developing and implementing innovative approaches to serving older New Yorkers with chemical dependence problems as well as providing outreach and education to combat stigma and ageism and to provide chemical dependence specific training to those who serve older New Yorkers.

Assemblyman Englebright, Chair of Aging, said, “I am pleased to join with my colleagues, Assemblymembers Dinowitz, Cook and McEneny, along with these passionate advocates and providers, to introduce this landmark legislation. This legislation will provide a framework to plan and to provide resources to develop and implement cutting edge programs and services that will identify and treat alcohol and substance abuse problems among older New Yorkers. This legislation is intended to begin to address what is termed the “Silent Epidemic” and will meet the unique needs of older New Yorkers. It will combat ageism and stigma through a comprehensive public outreach campaign, it will encourage the development of age appropriate services and it will train providers to help them better identify chemical abuse indicators in older New Yorkers.”

Assemblyman Dinowitz stated, “This bill will help New York focus on an overlooked need of our senior citizens. Seniors have chemical dependency issues and with the baby boom generation aging, these issues are only going to increase. But it’s difficult to treat it because our geriatric system is not set up to squarely address seniors with chemical dependency issues. By enacting this bill into law we will be moving in a positive direction to get our seniors the kind of care and treatment they deserve.”

The legislation would create the “geriatric chemical dependence demonstration program,” which outlines eleven specific program target areas to, among other things, improve the identification, treatment, integration of services and training of service providers regarding the recognition and treatment of seniors with chemical dependence problems. Target program areas also would include programs specifically designed to meet the needs of senior cultural minorities and provide legal assistance to seniors suffering from or at risk of chemical dependence, who are in need of health care and other essential benefits and services.

Additionally, the legislation would create a twelve member interagency council on geriatric chemical dependence services to develop recommendations regarding the chemical dependence service needs of seniors. These recommendations would be used by the state to create a long-term plan for the geriatric chemical dependence service needs of the residents of New York State.

John Coppola, Executive Director of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers (ASAP), stated, “The proposed legislation is very important and timely, given the increasing number of aging persons in New York State, particularly those dealing with chronic pain, loneliness and major life transitions, all factors correlated with increased risk for chemical dependency.”

Michael Burgess, Executive Director of the New York State Alliance for Retired Americans and public policy consultant for the New York StateWide Senior Action Council said, "For many older persons, loneliness, isolation and depression lead to an increased usage of medications and substances which they become dependent on and harm their health. We need to understand these problems better and provide new approaches to improve the quality of life for persons in these circumstances."

“AARP commends the leadership of Assemblyman Steven Englebright and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz for developing an innovative approach to helping older New Yorkers with chemical dependency problems,” said Lois Aronstein, AARP New York State Director. “The more we break down the barriers to properly diagnose and treat older persons who have chemical dependency problems the more likely they will be to receive proper care they need.”

Michael Friedman, Executive Director of the Geriatric Mental Health Alliance of New York said, “Over the past year, The Geriatric MH Alliance conducted 24 focus groups with seniors and with providers in the aging, health, and mental health systems. The issue of chemical dependence – primarily alcohol and prescription drug abuse – came up again and again as a major concern. In addition we found growing concern about the abuse of illegal substances because lifelong substance abusers now live longer and because the generation of drugs, sex, and rock and roll is about to become elderly. We believe that it is critical for NYS to address these issues in anticipation of the elder boom."

Ron Toseland, Professor and Director, Institute of Gerontology, University at Albany, State University of New York, said, "Because of metabolic changes, older adults may not even realize they are engaged in risky or hazardous behavior with respect to their alcohol consumption and prescription drug use. The proposed legislation will provide essential information to help older people reduce the harmful effects of combining prescription drugs and alcohol in an unsafe manner. It will also benefit those older people who know they have a problem with alcohol or prescription drug use, but who do not realize there is help available."

William P. Rockwood, Ph.D., President, Senior Hope Counseling, Inc. said, "We hear daily from our clients that Senior Hope is their only hope and second chance at living a productive life. The lack of programs and services tailored for the unique needs of older New Yorkers should be a problem of the past, not an outlook for the future. This important legislation will begin an important process of developing programs and services to deal specifically with alcohol and substance abuse problems of older New Yorkers. It creates an interagency advisory committee that will make recommendations enabling better planning and care delivery, something that is sorely missing as was illustrated by the states five year plan having virtually no reference to older adults. I commend these legislators for addressing this growing problem."

Peter Provet, Ph.D President and CEO of Odyssey House said, “We support legislative efforts to develop and implement innovative approaches to serving older New Yorkers with chemical dependency problems, because we know it works. Everyday at the Odyssey House ElderCare program, we witness older men and women taking control of their lives and proving to themselves - and their families - that it’s never too late to change.”