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Blue Ribbon Foundation, Serento Gardens Help Hazleton Seniors Learn Rx Safety

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By: Anthony Matrisciano
April 27, 2011

More than 300 participants attended free workshops

April 27, 2011, Hazleton, PA — Ed Pane still marvels at the thought of a 16-year-old prescription turned in by a senior citizen during a competition to discard the oldest medicine. Pane is president and CEO of the drug and alcohol treatment center Serento Gardens, which recently organized the competition as part of its series of free Medication Education, or "Med-Ed," workshops to teach seniors about prescription safety.

Thanks to a $7,000 grant from The Blue Ribbon Foundation of Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Serento Gardens teamed with a nurse and a pharmacist to educate more than 300 residents at Med-Ed meetings at local senior centers and housing complexes during the past year.

The free sessions covered topics such as throwing away expired medicines; the hazards of interactions among drugs; the dangers of sharing prescriptions; and how to notice signs of alcoholism among the elderly.

"Nearly one in three adults between ages 57 and 85 takes at least five prescription drugs," said Cynthia A. Yevich, executive director of The Blue Ribbon Foundation. "By funding the Med-Ed program, The Foundation is helping seniors learn to spot potential dangers before they happen."

The need for such education is especially great in the Hazleton area, where 2010 Census figures indicate that nearly half the population is age 45 or older and one in four residents is older than age 62. Across the U.S., poisoning by prescription medicines is currently the second leading cause of unintentional deaths annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Seniors often swap medicines to help their friends feel better and to deal with the challenges of living on a fixed income," said Pane. "Combine that with the fact that the elderly generally hold onto medicines in case they need them, and you have a deadly mix."

Overdoses and negative drug interactions aren’t the only challenges seniors face. Nearly one in five adults age 60 or older has a problem abusing drugs or alcohol, according to the federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Locally, Charles Gennaro, 89, has seen the problem firsthand as president of the resident council at Vine Manor, a Hazleton housing complex for seniors and individuals with disabilities.

"Seniors think, ‘I’ve gone through the mill so I’m entitled to an extra drink,’ but they don’t realize that age doesn’t stop addiction," said Gennaro, who also chairs the Hazleton Housing Authority’s board of commissioners and serves as president of a statewide coalition, the Pennsylvania Association of Resident Councils. "We appreciate the Med-Ed workshops because they remind us to stay vigilant protecting seniors’ health and regularly tell them about the dangers of prescription medicines."

About Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania

Headquartered in Wilkes-Barre, Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. BCNEPA offers a comprehensive portfolio of health insurance products and administrative services to nearly 550,000 individuals in 13 counties in northeastern and north central Pennsylvania. The company’s mission is to provide integrated health care services and products to improve the quality, accessibility and affordability of health care in the populations BCNEPA serves.

BCNEPA established its private, nonprofit Blue Ribbon Foundation in 2002 to invest in health education and prevention initiatives that produce measurable health improvements and help manage long-term health costs for the residents of northeastern and north central Pennsylvania.

Media Contact:
Anthony Matrisciano