Seniors and substance abuse
"I was driving down the road and I got two flat tires and pulled off the road and someone called the police," said a woman who only wanted to be identified as Sherri.
The next thing Sherri knew, she was in jail. She said she had been drinking the day before and still had alcohol in her system.
"I didn't think I had a problem until then and I was determined that this was not going to happen again," said Sherri.
She was 55 years old and had lived a lifetime battling addiction, but she wanted sobriety. She found herself on the doorstep of Senior Hope, an outpatient clinic specifically for people 50 years and older.
Dr. Nicole Macfarland is the Executive Director. She told CBS6 News that most clients at Senior Hope battle alcohol addiction, like Sherri did. But Dr. Macfarland said Senior Hope is seeing a new trend.
"We've been seeing an increase in the number of patients we've served who struggle with heroin and other opiates," said Dr. Macfarland.
Macfarland said that according to the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, 11% of patients at Senior Hope struggled with heroin when they came in last year. That has jumped to 23% this year so far. She told CBS6 News that OASAS is seeing a similar trend statewide.
Macfarland said Senior Hope is seeing people who have battled opiate addiction for years and she said they are also seeing new opiate addictions. She said people are living longer, but their bodies break down and may require more medication to deal with pain. She said some build up a tolerance.
"They may need more of the medicine to get the same effect. Some individuals begin to reach out to the streets to get these drugs because they are not able to get prescriptions any longer," said Dr. Macfarland. "We often say to the elder who is struggling, 'what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?'"
A man, named Jose, told CBS6 News that he has battled heroin for 30 years. He recently graduated from the Senior Hope program. He said his children and grandchildren are what kept him motivated.
"It's a cloud when you're using. You have a cloud. Over here, you don't have a cloud and you can see everything clearer now," said Jose. "I got a second chance."
A second chance, in the second half of life. The patients CBS6 News spoke with said it is a hard battle when you're also fighting a stigma surrounding addiction that their generation grew up with. They said it was easier to work alongside their peers.
"It was much more comfortable working with people who had similar backgrounds and understand where I'm coming from," said Sherri.
Sherri has been sober for five years. She went back to school for drug and alcohol counseling and now interns at Senior Hope. Sherri hopes she can inspire others, to find a healthy new life.
"The number on a piece of document doesn't mean anything, it's what's inside here that means something," said Sherri. "You can have a whole new life, you can start over and give yourself what you need to have a good, healthy, normal life."