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Opioid Addiction Can Affect Seniors

March 15, 2017

Opioid abuse is a serious public health issue that has grown to epidemic proportions nationwide. While young adults are the biggest abusers of prescription opioid pain relievers, many older Americans suffer from opioid drug addiction as well.

14005472 - senior gentleman grimaces at the pain in his shoulderOpioid addiction and deaths from overdoses of such drugs have continued to increase over the past fifteen years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), deaths from prescription opioid drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone, have more than quadrupled since 1999. One of the drivers of this crisis stems from the increase of prescription opioid drugs sold in the United States, which has also quadrupled since 1999.

What once started as a prescription for pain relief too often has become a source of crippling addiction. While most people can take prescription opioids in small amounts for a short period of time, others become dependent on those drugs. A recent study found that new opioid use after hospitalization is common among Medicare patients with a large proportion of those patients continuing to use a prescription opioid 90 days after hospitalization.

Because the prevalence of pain is high in older adults, health care professionals often prescribe opioid drugs to combat the pain. Studies have shown that the prevalence of pain for nursing home residents can be as high as 70 percent. Oral opioid medications are the most commonly prescribed medications in palliative care and geriatrics, according to The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). Because of changes in metabolism and body composition, drugs used in the elderly population tend “to be more potent and have a longer duration of action than predicted” as reported by NCBI, a division of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Seniors are more susceptible to addiction than any other population because they are more likely to experience the loss of a loved one, loneliness, increased physical pain, and memory issues, said Matt Eakin, executive vice president of a treatment center in Connecticut, as reported in The Hour.

In a talk to the Kiwanis Club in Wilton, CT, Eakin shared several signs that may indicate opioid abuse in seniors, which can include increased falls, frequent headaches, changes in eating behaviors, poor hygiene, falling out of touch with loved ones, dramatic mood swings, and loss of interest in activities.

How to Combat Opioid Addiction

One important factor in avoiding opioid addiction is to clean out your medicine cabinets. Leftover pain medication in the medicine cabinet is a common way for individuals, young and old, to start taking drugs that can lead to addiction.

Many communities have a program to take back unwanted drugs, often located at the police or fire station. However, if you don’t have a drug take back program nearby, you can dispose of them in the household trash. According to the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), take the drugs out of the container and mix them with something unpalatable, such as kitty litter or coffee grounds. Place the mixture in a sealed plastic bag and throw it away.

Another way the country is trying to deal with the opioid epidemic is by changing prescription practices. The CDC provided recommendations for the prescribing of opioid pain medication for patients 18 and older in a guideline published March 2016, and the agency also supports training of health care professionals who prescribe opioids.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the nonmedical abuse of prescription drugs is highest among young adults ages 18 to 25. But while most of the attention on the opioid crisis is focused on this segment of the population, seniors are at risk, too. If you are concerned that you or a loved one may have a problem with prescription medications, seek the help of a health professional who can refer you to the proper treatment.

Photo credit: nebari/123RF.com

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