Seniors Selling Prescription Drugs for Food
The prescription drug epidemic is getting a lot of coverage in the media, but some stories still have the power to take you by surprise. According to a report from Cumberland County, Nova Scotia, senior citizens are increasingly turning to prescription drug dealing to meet their living expenses. The tale is shocking but has a deeper, profound sadness because of what seniors are feeling they have to do in order to have a steady supply of money—not to mention the moral bankruptcy of the dealers who take medicine that elderly people obviously need in order to meet their clients’ drug demands. It isn’t a throwaway headline about “grandma the drug dealer.” It’s a sad indictment of the state of society.
According to Paul Vincent, a police officer in the area, prescription medications are becoming the drug of choice, second only to marijuana in terms of how widespread they are. Painkillers like fentanyl, hydrocodone, oxycodone and hydromorphone are required for those in chronic pain, but they are also at the center of the prescription drug epidemic in North America. Generally speaking, seniors who take painkillers can be prescribed 60 to 120 per month, and the temptation to sell them is proving to be too much to pass up. On the black market, the pills are valued at up to $50 each.
In truth, the story comes down to the tough financial climate, especially for seniors who are dependent on pensions or Social Security. Let’s use a hypothetical situation in which a senior is receiving 120 hydrocodone pills a month, but typically needs only about 100. At the same time, the majority of his legitimate income is fed straight into his cost of living, with very little remaining for food. At this point, he is approached by a dealer, who offers to buy the pills he has left over at the end of the month for $500. For the dealer, who stands to rake in up to $1,000 for the medication, it’s a financially sound move. But for the senior citizen, the situation is actually much the same.
Of course, the senior may have moral reservations about what he is considering, but upstanding moral behavior can become absolutely useless when it comes to paying the bills and putting food on the table. The dealers also offer the seniors groceries, which may make the entire thing seem less like drug dealing. In fact, in a financially desperate situation, the moral ambiguity might not even enter into the equation. As Vincent said, “A lot of these seniors are going through tough times financially … the money can be quite enticing.”
He also advised seniors to keep their medications under lock and key, because dealers and users themselves are sometimes willing to break into seniors’ homes to steal pills.
It’s Still a Crime, Even If You’re a Senior
Since the drugs being sold or traded for groceries are controlled substances, seniors are breaking the law just as much as the dealer on the street corner. Vincent was keen to remind the seniors of this fact, and issued a stern warning that if caught, they could be charged with drug trafficking. We may empathize with their financial difficulty, and even imagine our aging parents in the same position, but the fact of the matter is that these seniors are still dealing drugs. The unavoidable truth is that the deaths related to prescription drug overdoses only occur because of this sort of cavalier attitude toward the substances.
Another Twist in the Tale
These types of events may well form the next chapter in the terrible tale of the prescription drug epidemic. Similar events have been reported in the past, with seniors selling pills in Kentucky throughout 2004 and 2005, and in other countries such as Australia. With positive efforts to curb the impact of things like “doctor shopping,” the reduction in the amount of drugs on the street leaves a high demand and a dwindling supply. This combination of pressures and the potential for profit will undoubtedly drive dealers to other sources for the medication. Sadly, the elderly are vulnerable, often struggling for money and generally well-stocked with medicines, making them an inevitable target for dealers.
The worst thing about this story is that there are no winners, apart from the dealers. The elderly people driven to sell their medicine by financial hardship risk serious criminal charges, and the users risk adding their names to the continually mounting death toll related to prescription drug abuse. Solving the problem won’t be easy, but informing seniors of the potential criminal charges and educating the end-users on the risks of abusing prescription drugs are the first critical steps.