Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Using and abusing

Older adults can fall prey to addiction

Mike Scott was concerned when his mother-in-law suddenly couldn’t keep track of her money.

Her husband recently died of Alzheimer’s disease, and now it seemed she was showing early signs as well. Scott and his wife, Susan, decided their family would start devoting more time to helping her at home.

“Matt and his girlfriend would go over there under the pretense of cleaning her house,” Scott said of his son. “And they were really cleaning house.”

In Vermilion County, 18 percent of residents are aged 65 and older, according to 2016 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. This is higher than the U.S.’s percentage of the same age group — less than 15 percent.

The elderly community in Vermilion County is prominent, in part because of the local Veterans Affairs medical center. In a recent Danville City Council meeting, a community member expressed concerns of growing violence and drug use saying, “This is supposed to be a town for retired people.”

Apart from age, the county also has a higher rate of overdose from opioids — about 17 deaths this year compared to Illinois’ average of 13, as shown by a national study from the University of Wisconsin.

Matthew Scott said there was a time he would do anything not to get sick from withdrawal symptoms.

After serving five years in the Marine Corps, he struggled to adjust to civilian life, and eventually turned to heroin when he lost his job.

Then he lost a lot more.


“I remember thinking that it would be so easy to take her debit card or checkbook,” Matthew said of his grandmother. “It was never in my nature to steal before.”

His father agreed that addiction had turned him into a different person.

“That isn't what the old Matt would have done, that was the Heroin Matt,” Mike said.

Stealing and addiction go hand-in-hand, according to professionals like Susan Perkins. She serves as a clinical director for the Prairie Center, a local treatment center for those with substance abuse and addiction.

Working there for 22 years, she’s seen firsthand the popular drugs that change through the decades.

The '90s were simpler, mostly DUIs and marijuana. Then it was crack cocaine, then methamphetamine. Prescription pills started popping up in the late 2000s, and are still commonly abused. Heroin rose to the local scene around 2010.

Several years later is when Matthew starting using.

He vividly remembers one day in 2015. He was doing chores at his grandmother's house when she gave him her checkbook and sent him to the Family Dollar store to run errands. He used the checks to buy cigarettes and traded them for heroin.

Soon after, Matthew was charged with exploitation of the elderly.

Money isn’t the only thing drug users steal from older adults. Amy Brown, CEO of the CRIS Healthy Aging Center, said one of the services her organization offers is pill-counting.

“Sometimes they may forget to take their medication,” she said. “But if the bottle is empty and their prescription was filled yesterday, that’s obviously a problem.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that people age 65 and older account for more than 30 percent of outpatient spending on prescription medicine, even though these adults make up less than 15 percent of the total U.S. population. These prescription medications can include legal opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.

The sheer quantity of painkillers that older adults have access to makes them vulnerable targets.

In total, Matthew Scott said he overdosed nine times. The first eight times were eight consecutive days in a row, then one more time months later.

He was arrested several times, and eventually went to rehab. His time in jail taught him it’s actually easier to go through withdrawal behind bars.

“In jail, the mental anguish at least goes away because you know you can’t get it (heroin),” he said.

Subconsciously, he believes that’s the reason the last time he stole from his family, he specifically stole from his mother’s account.

“I knew she would press charges.”


Matthew’s father, who is an alderman on the Georgetown City Council, admits he was reluctant to call the police on his son.

“To be honest, when Matt stole and pawned my tools, that’s not even what bothered me,” Mike Scott said. “I had just worked to put three guys away for doing drugs, and I didn’t even know my son was in the next room shooting up.”

There are several reasons why medication theft and exploitation of the elderly are potentially under-reported crimes. Most obvious, older adults may not even know their medication or money has been stolen. Or, similar to what Mike Scott experienced, they may not want to send a family member to jail, especially if that person is their child or grandchild.

A representative from the American Association of Retired Persons said the organization doesn’t even keep data on this issue.

Danville Public Safety Director Larry Thomason said police work with CRIS Healthy Aging Center when dealing with crimes of this nature.

“Certainly we encourage people to report to police,” he said. “Count a fresh prescription, and make a visual check so you know what 30 pills looks like and what 100 pills looks like.

“Today it’s too easy to use various medications for various purposes.”

From late August to mid-October of this year, the Danville police blotter shows at least two reports of medication theft and one report of exploitation of the elderly.


Mike Scott said when Matthew was away in jail and rehab, his grandmother asked about him constantly.

“You tell him I still love him,” Mike recalls her saying.

While Alzheimer’s has since affected the now 79-year-old woman, Matthew said he can still feel his grandmother's affection toward him.

“She talks about forgiveness and I know what she’s referring to,” he said. “The pain of hurting people — of hurting my grandma — it didn’t sink in until after I was clean.”

Matthew, now 32, said it’s been 10 months since he last used drugs, and he credits much of that accomplishment to the support from his family, community and staff at the Prairie Center.

He said everyone has a different rock bottom. For him, it was that he didn’t have anything left; he lost his car and his house, and his wife eventually moved to Indiana with their children.

After one visit, Matthew’s middle son told his grandpa Mike Scott, “I didn’t think I was ever going to see him again.”

Both Scott men consider that moment the turning point in Matthew’s life.

“The best thing we did was put him in jail,” Mike said.

A year ago, he was hesitant to call the police on his son. Now, he wouldn't think twice.

“Don’t wait to call the police,” he advises other parents and grandparents. “You’re killing them.”

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Using and abusing


Mary said...

Very sad for the elderly.

Anonymous said...

Hydrocodone is probably the most abused.