When you think of drug addiction, seniors are probably not the first age group that comes to mind. But it makes sense. Opioids are most often prescribed for pain relief, and as people age, they are likely to develop chronic, painful conditions.
Many seniors also suffer from insomnia and anxiety. Is it any wonder that 40 percent of the prescription drugs sold in the United States are used by the elderly? More than 11 million Medicare recipients alone received a prescription for an opioid last year—that’s about one in four—according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Then add in those who are not acquiring their medications through Medicare, and the number rises.
With that high number of opioid prescriptions comes a high possibility of abuse. According to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, as many as 17% of adults age 60 and over abuse prescription drugs. Oxycontin, Fentanyl, Percocet, and Vicodin are commonly prescribed, but seriously addicting. And most doctors don’t stop to consider that a 65-year-old may develop a painkiller addiction.
Why? First, they’re mainly focused on treating their patients’ pain and helping them enjoy a better quality of life. Second, the usual screening guidelines put in place to determine if a patient has a dependency issue with an opioid usually don’t apply to seniors—because they include questions like, “Does use of this drug interfere with his/her work performance? Does it cause problems driving?”
Third, most seniors take a high number of prescription medications, and it can be hard to tell if they’re overusing or abusing any.
What to Watch For
How can you tell if a senior citizen’s medication use stops being medically necessary and becomes an addiction?
- Be vigilant about their dosage. How much are they taking? Is it more than the prescribed amount?
- Consider whether their behavior or moods have changed. Do they ever sneak or hide their meds? Are they argumentative, withdrawn, secretive or anxious?
- Do they take only the daily dose? Or do they have an always-on-hand supply in case of “emergency?”
- Have they recently changed doctors or drug stores? Do they see more than one doctor for the same problem?
- Are they open about their medication use? Or do they become annoyed or uncomfortable when discussing their use of medications?
If you’re concerned that an elderly parent, friend, or other relative is abusing prescription drugs, call the team at Horizon Health Services at (716) 831-1800. We can help answer your questions and guide you to help.