WSSU expert: Opioid addiction increasing among the aging population

A Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) expert is sounding the alarm about the growing opioid epidemic and its impact on the aging population in North Carolina.

“Older adults are the most vulnerable for substance abuse,” says  Dr. Shannon Mathews, interim associate dean for the College of Arts, Sciences, Business and Education, and program coordinator for the Gerontology Program. “Older adults can experience social isolation due to the death of a spouse or partner, retirement from work, disability, reduced levels of activity, or even relocation.”

Mathews says the rates of opioid-related emergency department visits continue to rise in North Carolina and these sometimes include older adults. In a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), North Carolina saw a significant increase of about 20,000 suspected opioid overdoses.

Dr. Shannon Mathews

Mathews says opioid use disorders can be treated effectively for those who are aware of the signs.  



Treatment requires a comprehensive, interdisciplinary set of solutions, which include: treating a person’s individual needs, including pain control; providing readily available treatment, including medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder; ensuring sufficient length of treatment; and providing any necessary behavioral therapies.

For friends or family who suspect opioid addiction, Mathews advises:

  • Talk with a doctor about the signs you see.
  • Check to see if the person is taking only the prescribed dosage of medicine.
  • Ask a pain management specialist about alternatives.
  • Look into rehabilitation centers for older adults.

Mathews says several courses in the WSSU’s Gerontology Program focus on ways to help promote healthy lifestyle choices and identify risk factors that may make older adults susceptible to substance abuse.

WSSU is the only historically Black college and university (HBCU) in the nation to offer an undergraduate gerontology program with Program of Merit status through the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE). The program recently ranked no. 10 in the United States on College Choice's rankings of best Gerontology programs.

The program, founded in 1999 and part of the Department of Behavioral Sciences, prepares students to become leaders in the fields of gerontology, aging services, and healthcare with an understanding that greater education is needed to provide best practice in the case of older adults.

WSSU offers a bachelor’s and minor in gerontology.

For media interviews, please contact: Jay Davis, director of media relations, at 336-750-3152.

Kayla Evans, who graduated in May, was an intern in WSSU's Integrated Marketing Communications.

About Winston-Salem State University
Winston-Salem State University fosters the creative thinking, analytical problem-solving, and depth of character needed to transform the world. Rooted in liberal education, WSSU’s curriculum prepares students to be thought leaders who have the skills and knowledge needed to develop innovative solutions to complex problems. Founded in 1892, WSSU is a historically Black constituent institution of the University of North Carolina with a rich tradition of contributing to the social, cultural, intellectual, and economic growth of North Carolina, the region and beyond. Guided by the motto, “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve,” WSSU develops leaders who advance social justice by serving the world with compassion and commitment.

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