Cutler Institute

The Role of the Opioid Crisis in Elder Abuse

Kimberly Snow, Jennifer Pratt, and Stuart Bratesman finished their investigation of how the opioid crisis impacted elder abuse in Maine in 2015-2018. Using a mixed-methods design analyzing Maine Adult Protective Services Information System data and reviewing thousands of investigation case notes, researchers found that opioid-related investigations and other illicit drug-related investigations increased during the study period but remained a near-constant 2.5-3% of all investigations. They also found that clients in opioid-related investigations tend to be younger than in non-opioid-related investigations. Opioid-related investigations also tend to have 3 or more abuse allegations, more often include an allegation of exploitation, and take longer to resolve. Alleged perpetrators are more likely to be living with the client and be children or grandchildren of the client than in non-opioid-related investigations.

Common themes identified in the opioid-related investigations included clients having valid prescription opioid medications while also exhibiting substance use or opioid use disorder behaviors. This finding, in particular, has implications for providers who must conduct a risk assessment prior to prescribing an opioid medication in that the current risk assessment tools used might not be sufficiently identifying the risks for an older population.

Kim presented the findings to Maine's Overdose to Action committee on December 17, 2020, and is planning to present them again at the Maine Council for Elder Abuse Prevention's 2021 Elder Abuse Summit this spring.