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Baby boomers the focus of new alcohol, drug treatment program in Washington County

The partners who launched a new drug and alcohol treatment program are targeting what they say is an overlooked demographic: adults 50 and over.

Peter Oesterreich and Win Miller launched Silver Sobriety Jan. 1 in Stillwater to address the surge in addiction among older Americans. The nonprofit will serve Washington County, including Cottage Grove and Woodbury, St. Croix County, and parts of St. Paul.

While law enforcement, school and health officials sound the alarm about substance abuse among young people, an increasing number of baby boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — are turning to drugs and alcohol to cope with loss, loneliness and the aches and pains that come with age.

Yet, there are very few treatment centers in Minnesota that are specifically geared toward older adults, Oesterreich said.

“For a senior to go into a treatment center or a recovery program where their peers are 30 years old and are smoking meth or crack, you have a different drug of choice but you also have different life experiences and a different set of problems,” said Oesterreich, a recovering alcoholic who has been sober 24 years.

Silver Sobriety, which claims to charge less for their program than most inpatient and outpatient treatments, aims to have senior addicts interact with their own age group. It also emphasizes a continuing care model, which will entail a support group of volunteer counselors and others staying in touch with the patients after they complete treatment.

“Part of what differentiates us from almost any treatment center out there is we provide rides for our clients,” Oesterreich said. “Many older residents can’t drive. We have volunteer drivers who will provide transportation.”

By 2020, according to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, the number of people needing alcohol recovery services will double among persons aged 50 or older.  Between 2000 and 2008, substance abuse treatment admissions among those aged 50 years or older increased by 70 percent.

Many boomers grew up in an era when drugs were considered a harmless vice or a rite of passage. They may have fewer qualms about turning on again, although their drugs of choice this time around are likely to be prescription painkillers, sleep aids or anti-anxiety medication.

Older adults have unique needs when it comes to addressing the problems of addiction, Oesterreich said.

Their slower metabolisms make it harder for them to recover from a drug and alcohol binge.

They also may have fewer incentives to quit, particularly if they're retired. 

“Hidden and drinking alone at home, they’re not facing the same consequences as young people do, such as getting in the car and getting caught for drunken driving,” Oesterreich said.

Oesterreich was a treatment director at a St. Paul-based senior recovery program for five years.

“That’s where I became acutely aware of the need of seniors to have peer-to-peer connections when they’re trying to get clean and sober,” he said. “There’s huge gap in coverage for seniors.”

The restrictions of Medicare can prove daunting for a senior citizen who seeks treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, he said.

“Medicare is much stricter than other health coverage when it comes to getting treatment for addiction,” he said. “Medicare only recognizes hospital-based treatment centers. That’s all they will reimburse. If you are not based in a hospital, Medicare will not pay for your program.”

Silver Sobriety is a non-residential, six-month treatment program that provides patients weekly individual sessions with licensed alcohol and drug counselors. For more information, call 651-890-2498 or visit

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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