You are never too old to suffer from addiction, especially addiction to opioids.

That is the message from treatment specialists and professionals at all levels.

The oldest person to die of an overdose in Luzerne County in 2017 was Paul Sorokas, who was 75.

His brother said Sorokas fell into addiction after he hurt his back at work and was prescribed painkillers. When his doctors cut off his supply of prescription drugs, Sorokas struggled to medicate his pain with anything he could find.

That is a common story, according to Steven Ross, administrator of the Luzerne County Drug and Alcohol program. Ten of the 151 overdose victims in the county in 2017 were age 60 or older.

The increase of the rate of addiction in the elderly began about 20 years ago, after physicians started to treat pain “as a vital sign,” similar to heart rate or blood pressure, Ross said. At the same time, pharmaceutical companies were marketing opioid-based pain medication as non-addictive, he said.

That led to more and more pain management patients of all ages, but especially senior citizens, according to Ross.

Some of those patients find they cannot get enough prescription medication to ease their pain or feed their addiction, so they turn to street drugs such as heroin, he said.

While there are no local programs specifically designed to help seniors treat addiction, older residents often take part in programs that are open to all ages, Ross said.

According to the national Addiction Center website, drug abuse among the elderly is a rapidly growing health problem in the United States. Senior citizens are especially susceptible to “the deteriorating effects of these substances” since their bodies do not metabolize drugs or alcohol as well as they could when younger, the website states.

Drug addiction in the elderly can be hard to identify, since its symptoms can be similar to those of other disorders common among older people, such as diabetes, dementia and depression, according to the Addiction Center.

Contact the writer: emark@citizensvoice.com, 570-821-2117