Jonathan Watanabe, Associate Dean, UCI School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences
“The ADA safeguards the rights of people with disabilities and extends to those with OUD,” says Jonathan Watanabe, UCI professor of clinical pharmacy practice and board-certified geriatric pharmacist. “The opportunity is now to recognize core gaps in treatment for older people and to maximize their well-being and ability to lead fulfilling lives.” Steve Zylius / UCI

The escalating rate of opioid use disorder in the elderly population is a serious public health issue. As the number of older adults increases, the proportion seeking treatment is on the rise. These patients are seen in hospitals, ambulatory clinics and post-acute care settings such as skilled nursing facilities.

In an article recently published online in the journal The Senior Care Pharmacist, Jonathan Watanabe, UCI professor of clinical pharmacy practice and board-certified geriatric pharmacist, says it’s critical to recognize that people with OUD are federally protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. They cannot be discriminated against or denied equal access to health services and treatments.

“Given that most older people are covered under Medicare, it’s crucial to ensure that treatment coverage includes medications and harm reduction approaches,” Watanabe says. “FDA approval of the first over-the-counter naloxone product and removal of federal regulations for prescribing buprenorphine paved the way for greater access, but these historic policy changes must be operationalized to the full extent to save lives. If the dual stigmas of ageism and OUD disrupt care, it not only is a threat to health outcomes but may be a violation of federal law.”