Report: PA Sees Drug Overdose Spike in Older Adults

Keystone State News Connection

June 29, 2022

Emily Scott

Older people in Pennsylvania are dying from drug overdoses at much higher rates now compared to a decade ago, according to the latest America’s Health Rankings Senior Report from UnitedHealthcare.

The report found in Pennsylvania, overdose deaths have increased 149% and frequent mental distress is up more than 16% in the last 10-12 years. It also found a 26% increase in the number of older adults who report getting insufficient sleep.

Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare employer and individual, said the physical distancing required during COVID has taken a particularly heavy toll on older people.

“The risk of social isolation is measuring a lack of meaningful social connectedness among seniors,” Randall explained. “Things that put you at risk are being never married, widowed, divorced, separated, living alone, living in poverty.”

Pennsylvania ranks 30th overall in the report. On the positive side, between 2016 and 2020, the state saw a 33% increase in the number of home health care workers, whose clients often are older adults.

The report found Pennsylvania is ranked first in the nation for helping older adults in the state access the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or federal food benefits.

Susan Neff, supervisor of the Pennsylvania Department of Aging’s Education and Outreach Office, said in the pandemic, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has expanded resources for older adults, including the Senior Food Box Program.

“Part of that program are the farmers market food vouchers,” Neff explained. “This is the season where farmers markets are prevalent. You get vouchers that can be used just like cash at any of your local farmers markets. So, you’d have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, which is very important for everyone. ”

Residents can apply for SNAP benefits using the online tool COMPASS, or they can file an application at a local county assistance office.

An estimated 8.3% of older Pennsylvanians are living in poverty, which is slightly below the national average.