The opioid crisis has dominated news reports in recent years, from stories on communities and families ravaged by addiction to states suing pharmaceutical companies for their role in the spread of the drugs. You might think opioid misuse is a problem of youth, but in Tennessee, adults ages 55 to 64 have the highest death rate from opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That age group is also seeing a spike in other substance abuse ‒ including alcohol ‒ as reported in a recent national survey. Aging Matters: Opioids & Addiction, the 15th documentary in Nashville Public Television’s NPT Reports: Aging Matters series, explores how older adults and their families deal with the medical, social and economic challenges of this public health crisis.
Aging Matters: Opioids & Addiction premieres Thursday, June 20, at 8 p.m. on NPT.
The documentary includes input from people now in recovery, physicians, caregivers, and patients seeking alternative pain management. Representatives from Family & Children’s Services, JourneyPure, Meharry Medical College, National Council on Aging, Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center appear in the documentary.
By 1990, pain was being assessed in a way that shifted medical culture. “It was added as a vital sign,” says Dr. Allison Bollinger, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Nashville’s Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital, in Aging Matters: Opioids & Addiction. “The doctors started to be judged on their ability to manage pain, which put pressure on physicians to prescribe those medications that could then relieve pain,” adds Dr. Lyle Cooper, assistant professor of Family and Community Medicine at Meharry Medical College.
This shift in how doctors and patients thought about pain management ‒ coupled with questionable science and aggressive sales strategies ‒ were part of a perfect storm that has led to what we now call the opioid crisis. The market and use of opioids grew as people seeking to alleviate pain turned to drugs touted as being non-addictive. For older adults, opioid use is further complicated by changes in metabolism and other factors that affect how drugs are processed. There may also a greater likelihood of interaction with other drugs, prescription or otherwise.
The June 20 broadcast of Aging Matters: Opioids & Addiction will be followed at 8:30 p.m. by a discussion focusing on aspects of addiction as a family disease. Participating in the program are Grace Sutherland Smith, executive director, Council on Aging of Middle Tennessee; Kate Daniels, author and professor of English, Vanderbilt University; and author Trish Healy Luna (Timbi Talks About Addiction).
Additional broadcast times for Aging Matters: Opioids & Addiction are below; the documentary will also be available for online viewing at wnpt.org/agingmatters/.
- Monday, June 24, at 8 a.m. on NPT2
- Tuesday, June 25, at 1 p.m. on NPT2
- Monday, July 1, at 12 a.m. on NPT2
- Monday, July 29, at 11:30 p.m. on NPT
Aging Matters: Opioids & Addiction was produced by LaTonya Turner, whose previous Aging Matters documentaries include Hospitals & Health Risks, Loneliness & Isolation, and Caregiving, winner of a Midsouth Regional Emmy Award. Turner also produced NPT’s Emmy Award-winning documentary, The Early Black Press: Tennessee Voices United.
The NPT Reports: Aging Matters series is hosted by Grammy-winning singer and songwriter Kathy Mattea. Aging Matters: Opioids & Addiction is made possible by the generous support of the West End Home Foundation, the Jeanette Travis Foundation, The HCA Foundation and Cigna-HealthSpring. Additional support was provided by the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee and Jackson National Life Insurance Company.