Independence at Home Debuts New Program to Address Substance Abuse Among Older Adults

Date Posted: 03/02/2015

(LONG BEACH, Calif.) — Independence at Home, a community service of SCAN Health Plan, announced today the launch of a new program designed to address the increasing problem of alcohol, drug and prescription medication abuse among older adults. The Substance Assistance for Elders (S.A.F.E.) program will provide screening, assessment, counseling, brief therapy and action planning for individuals who may be misusing alcohol, drugs or prescription medication.

“With older adults utilizing one-third of all prescription medications, misuse and abuse is a very dangerous and growing problem,” said Dr. Marsha Meyer, PharmD, CGP, CGCM, director of Health and Wellness Services for Independence at Home.

As part of the S.A.F.E. rollout, more than 100 local social workers, nurses and others serving the senior community recently attended a workshop where they were trained to recognize the risk factors, signs and symptoms of substance abuse in older adults. The educational training was anchored by Dr. Alison Moore, MD, MPH, a professor of medicine/geriatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, who shared her research on drinking and drug use patterns in the 65 and older population as well as conditions that may be caused or worsened by alcohol use.

“There are different risks for older adults, because of physiological changes and increases in medication use and other morbidity,” explained Dr. Moore. “As you age your brain is more sensitive to the sedating effects of alcohol and drugs. Also, with increasing age you have a higher blood alcohol level per dose consumed, and many fat soluble drugs stay in your system longer. Additionally, alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness and exacerbate the side effects of prescription medication.”

Risk factors for late-life substance abuse include isolation, bereavement and retirement as well as physical limitations, insomnia, anxiety or pain. Substance abuse often goes undiagnosed due to a variety of factors, including ageism, denial, and/ or lack of access to services in the community. Independence at Home’s S.A.F.E. program aims to fill this gap in services to improve client health outcomes and quality of life and also to provide educational resources to increase awareness about these issues in the older adult community.

Workshop attendees were provided with a comprehensive packet containing suggestions for opening the dialogue with older adult clients on drug and alcohol use, screening tools, and links to additional resources. Other speakers included Dr. Debra Mindlin, a behavioral health specialist at SCAN Health Plan; Dr. Dan Osterweil, a geriatrician with SCAN Health Plan; and Nancy King, a clinical director at Independence at Home.

To be eligible for the S.A.F.E. program, participants must be age 55 or older, or a caregiver for someone 55 or older. For more information, call 866-421-1964.

Independence at Home is a SCAN community service. SCAN Health Plan is one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit MAPD plans currently serving 170,000 members in California. Further information may be obtained at or on Facebook at

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