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Alcohol takes greater toll on older drinkers

When Luis Carino was sober, his friends said he was a thoughtful guy.

He painted and fixed things and did odd jobs for people in the neighborhood where he used to live.

But when he drank beer, which friends said was often, it was a different story.

Carino, 52, who had a history of battery, domestic violence and other alcohol-related arrests, was living on the streets when he jumped to his death off the International Speedway Boulevard bridge July 11. Police said it wasn’t the first time he threatened to jump off the same bridge.

Carino’s friends say he was crying out for help. But he had no money and faced wait lists or was taken to jail, detox or a crisis center under the state’s Baker Act as a threat to himself or others and then let out within days.

His story highlights the problem with the lack of treatment beds and waiting lists, local officials said, but also reflects studies recently about people 50 and older and their struggles with alcohol and depression.

“His alcoholism made him a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” said friend and former neighbor Bethany Collins. “Nobody would help him. He needed to be in rehab. All they did was take him to a drunk tank (in jail) or Baker Act him.”

The night he jumped, discharge papers in his backpack showed he was released that morning from Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Healthcare, according to police reports. He had several other Baker Act incidents, including three weeks prior for threatening to jump off the same bridge, police said.

Stewart-Marchman-Act officials would not comment specifically on Carino, citing privacy laws, but said there are wait lists for both residential treatment and detox, and no funding is available to open more beds.

While Carino’s story may be an extreme case, some national studies, including one this year in Florida, are finding excessive drinking and misuse of prescription drugs among older adults.

Some of the abuse may be hidden with people drinking in their homes, said Larry Schonfeld, professor and chairman of the Department of Aging and Mental Health at the University of South Florida.

Aging Affects Impairment

Another study of 50- to 74-year-olds released earlier this year by a University of Florida professor with local ties found people in that age group become more impaired by alcohol compared to younger populations after drinking low to moderate amounts such as two glasses of wine. There was about a 15-second delay for older people who were given alcohol to complete problem-solving tests compared to the older group that was given a placebo, officials said. There was hardly any difference for the young people who drank and the young people who took a placebo.

“That’s a long time if you think about moving your foot from the gas to thebrake,” said Sara Jo Nixon, chief of the division of addiction research at the University of Florida and senior researcher of the study. “(That delay) can be the difference between life and death.”

Members of the older group also underestimated how impaired they were, Nixon said.

“I think it’s an awareness issue,” said Nixon, who is also senior scientist at Stewart-Marchman-Act’s Vince Carter Sanctuary, which opened this week in Bunnell. “Don’t down that second glass of wine and run out the door because you need to go someplace else. Wait.”

Drug Addiction On Rise

Locally, agencies are also concerned about people over 50 and alcohol. Of Stewart-Marchman-Act’s 567 clients in all its substance-abuse treatment programs last year who were 50 and older, almost half reported alcohol as their main addiction while only 20 percent of those younger listed alcohol as their primary problem.

When the agency was formed in 1970, it was to help people with alcohol addiction, officials said. Now, for the first time in the agency’s history, officials report that opiates such as pain medications make up 53.1 percent of people of all ages being referred for treatment, with alcohol making up 34.8 percent.

Still, when it comes to treatment, only 9.5 percent of the agency’s clients are older than 50, and most of those are between 50 and 60.

At Serenity House, which provides substance-abuse treatment, about 15 percent to 20 percent of their clients are older than 50. Two-thirds of those are in their 50s.

A project with the University of South Florida and the state Department of Children & Families is targeting people 55 and older to try to get them into treatment. Federal funding is paying to screen people in 25 locations in Florida, such as Orlando and Jacksonville, for alcohol or drug problems.

Volusia and Flagler counties are not included.

While some studies suggest drinking moderately can have health benefits, Schonfeld warns about the dangers, especially when taking prescription drugs. As people get older, he said, they’re more sensitive to the effects of alcohol because of metabolic changes and it takes longer for alcohol to leave their system.

Dr. Brenton Thrasher, medical director of the Vince Carter Sanctuary, said the longer someone has been drinking, the more impact it has on the liver. Older people, he said, can develop reverse tolerance, where they can’t handle alcohol as well as in the past.

“(The liver) just doesn’t clear the body of toxins as fast as it used to,” Thrasher said.

Some Get Help

Ronnie Grimsley, 51, said he was drinking moderately more than five years ago as a certified nursing assistant. He then cared for his mom for three years while she had brain cancer, and, after she died, he started drinking heavily. He was living in homeless camps for six months in DeLand, sleeping in a tent and eating out of Dumpsters until he got into treatment at Serenity House in February. Grimsley, who has degenerative discs, had lost 50 pounds and was using a walker he had found.

Now, he remains in treatment, is back to his regular weight and is cooking for other clients at the facility on Stone Street.

“I don’t know what would have happened (without this place),” Grimsley said. “I’m not saying I was having suicidal thoughts, but I was close to it.”

For friends of Carino, who said he had a long history of alcohol abuse, they wish he could have gotten the help he needed. His fiancee, Melody Layne, 46, who was living with his former neighbor Collins, was hoping she and Carino could move in together once she was approved for Social Security disability.

“I told him to be patient,” Layne said.

She got her disability, she said, the Saturday he jumped off the bridge. It was too late.

“He wanted the attention to get help,” Layne said. “He did not mean to die.”

UF researchers, agency unite for studies

Researchers from the University of Florida will soon delve into the effects of alcohol and drugs as part of a partnership with a local substance-abuse agency.

Research has been ongoing but is ramping up after the opening of the Vince Carter Sanctuary in Bunnell, operated by Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Healthcare.

Sara Jo Nixon, chief of the division of addiction research at the University of Florida and senior scientist at the sanctuary, said the focus is on recovery and resilience and finding more “creative ways to individualize treatment.”

Nixon and other researchers, including UF grad students, will conduct a variety of studies, including looking at how brains may differ and how the process of recovery may differ on people who are detoxified. That includes looking at the effect of various drugs on the brain and developmental changes in the brain.

Some virtual-reality studies are also in the works to help clients better face situations when they return to the community.

“This is an incredibly rich opportunity,” said Nixon, who has done research for 22 years. “The Stewart-Marchman-Act group has such a diverse patient-client base. It sets a standard that treatment and research goes hand and hand.”

All voluntary, Nixon said, sanctuary officials want people who come to the sanctuary to know they can be “part of something that is cutting edge” and “contribute to a larger understanding of addiction.”

All of Stewart-Marchman-Act clients will also have a chance to participate in research. Since the agency receives 4,700 new clients each year, researchers plan to start in the fall putting together a data bank. They will collect information from clients who agree.

Maureen Weiss, a registered nurse and research coordinator for the Stewart-Marchman-Act Foundation who is supervised by Nixon, said workers will be able to measure various things by responses to a questionnaire. Some may include emotional state, family history and even looking at whether people who are spiritual have better treatment results. Weiss said researchers want to look at not only alcohol and other drugs, but nicotine and caffeine as well.

Weiss said a data bank is critical and will be the “basis for which all the rest of the studies will stem.”

Other ongoing studies by the University of Florida include looking at death trends in Volusia County and other areas regarding drug use, such as pain medications.

“The idea is, if we knew what was happening, we could intervene earlier and prevent death,” said Dr. Mark Gold, chairman of psychiatry at the University of Florida.

The goal of all the research, Weiss said, is to come up with prevention and treatment methods.

“Substance abuse is widely prevalent in our society,” Weiss said. “We need to get a handle on it. It’s very difficult to find one family who has not been affected by substance abuse.”

source: Daytona Beach News-Journal Online

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