UM, Missoula health department target opioids among older adults

The City-County Health Department is joining forces with a University of Montana program to help senior citizens find new ways to manage chronic pain and avoid addictive opioid drugs.

Cindy Farr, director of the Health Promotion Division at the health department, said a $31,000 grant awarded to the Geriatric Education Center at UM will fund a new course for older adults on ways to self-manage chronic pain.

“Basically, it’s intended to reduce opioid use in older adults,” Farr said. “It’s basically intended to teach them other ways of dealing with their pain, how to communicate with their doctor and communicate with their pharmacist. It’s a whole prescribed program.”

Under the program, members of the health department will receive training in December before launching two six-week courses in January.

Farr said the opioid problem extends through all age groups, including senior citizens and older adults. While the older demographic may not be addicted to pain medication, she said, doctors do tend to prescribe opioids to those suffering from chronic pain.

And that can present other challenges, Farr said.

“We have a lot of grandparents that are raising their grandchildren,” she said. “When you have a lot of older adults with multiple opioid prescriptions, it’s more likely that those grandchildren or teenagers coming in and out of their home will have access to those opioids.”

Members of the medical community are working among themselves to educate doctors, pharmacists and others on prescribing pain medication. The new Chronic Pain Self-Management Program is intended to bring that same training to older patients.

“There’s a whole task force of providers educating other providers to stop prescribing, and pharmacists also have that registry statewide,” said Missoula County Commissioner Cola Rowley. “This targets the patients.”

The funding is provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which awarded a grant to the University of Montana and its Geriatric Education Center.

The center subcontracted the City-County Health Department to carry out of training. If the pilot program is successful in Missoula, the University of Montana could expand it to other health departments in the state.

“Not only are we teaching them how to have those conversations and known what to ask their doctor, but we’re also doing things like staying active and having exercise,” said Farr. “It basically gives them the tools to determine what will work best for them to reduce their pain so they can reduce the amount of prescription drugs they take.”