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Seniors and Prescription Drug Addiction

When you think of drug addiction, the first thing that usually comes to mind is usually illegal drugs. Further assumptions that spring to mind is that addiction is a young person’s disease. The truth is, there is a growing epidemic of seniors who are addicted to prescription drugs. And in many instances, their addiction happens not through recreational use of prescribed medication, but accidental misuse.

Prescription Drug Addiction in Seniors

Many older adults are prescribed painkillers for arthritis, back pain, fibromyalgia, and other chronic health conditions. These drugs are typically some form of an opioid such as fentanyl, OxyContin, or Percocet. The problem is that opioids are extremely addictive.

In the six years between 2006 and 2012, there was a 78% increase in the number of emergency room visits for seniors due to a misuse of their prescriptions. Prescription drug abuse isn’t always on purpose. At times, an older adult can become confused and take their medications improperly. For some seniors, severe chronic pain is a fact of life due to a medical condition. When this is the case, their doctor will prescribe painkillers. While many doctors take great pains to ensure patients receive only the recommended doses, in some instances, some seniors may seek out doctors who are willing to prescribe more painkillers to them than they should, or switch doctors multiple times in order to obtain more prescriptions for a particular substance.

Over time, a person builds up a tolerance to these prescription medications and requires more of it to alleviate symptoms. When a person starts using more medication than responsibly-prescribed amounts call for, the opioids are no longer treating the underlying pain but are actually treating the pain of withdrawal, It can take as little as five days to create a physical dependency on opioids. When this happens, larger doses are needed to get the same amount of relief. At these higher doses, a person’s ability to function begins to decline.

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Prescription Drug Addiction Signs to Watch For

According to the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, the typical senior has between 14 and 18 prescriptions per year. Addiction to these drugs or overuse isn’t always easy to detect, but you can watch for signs.

One of the biggest red flags is if the senior is changing doctors on a regular basis. Any senior might not like one doctor, but if they are always on the lookout for a new one, they may be attempting to get multiple prescriptions. Falling down or being confused are also signs if there is no other condition that they can be attributed to. Also, if you notice a personality change that appears for no reason, it could be a sign of prescription drug abuse. Some of these physical or personality changes can include:

  • Falling
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Injuries

In reality, opioids are intended for short-term use, such as to ease pain at the end of one’s life, or for a few days after major surgery.

If you are concerned about the drugs an older adult in your life is taking, talk with their doctor to ensure that your loved one doesn’t become a victim of prescription drug abuse. It’s up to you and your loved one’s medical care providers to educate and be on the lookout for issues when it comes to seniors and prescription drugs.

If you do suspect your loved one may have an addiction problem, please encourage them to seek counseling and help for the addiction.