• Julie Katz

The Opioid Epidemic and the Elderly

Older adults are not immune from opioid addiction, quite the opposite.

The media has lead us to believe that the opiod addiction affects young, rural men at an alarming rate. While this is true, they are not the only one's suffering. The elderly are very susceptible to opioid addiction as well. In fact, between 2014 and 2020, double the amount of older adults will be abusing opioids. The CDC reported that between 2014 and 2015 deaths of older adults due to opioids increased 33.3%.

How did this happen?

  • Older adults are more likely to have chronic pain and be treated with pain medication. Doctors and pharmaceutic companies played a role in over-prescribing.

  • Older adults metabolize medicine slower, so the dose is more potent.

  • They are more likely to take multiple medications which can interact with opioids.

  • Memory loss may cause older adults to forget they took their dose and take another one.

What can be done to prevent an addiction by older adults?

  • Although doctors are much stricter about giving out opioids, ask if there are other pain reduction alternatives, such as over the counter meds or physical therapy.

  • If someone is on an opioid, make sure they are capable of taking the proper dose. If they are not, make sure someone else can administer it to them.

  • Ask a pharmacist to check all medications (prescription and over the counter) for interactions. Make sure multiple doctors are communicating with one another or know the patient's full pharmaceutical profile.

  • Dispose of any unused opioids. Police departments will accept unused prescription narcotics.

What should you do if you suspect a relative may be addicted to opioids? Make an appointment immediately with their primary care physician. He or she will be able to assess if there is a problem and point you toward treatment options. If a diagnosis of addiction is confirmed, relatives may want to get the antidote, Narcan.

The elderly may also be caught up in the opioid epidemic even if they are not taking the drugs. If family members are addicted, they will eventually need cash. They may try to steal or embezzle money from their elderly relatives because they are the most vulnerable. If you have a relative who is addicted to heroine, alert your elderly relative to the issue and ask them not to give money and hide valuables.

There has been much in the press about the opioid epidemic, but very little has focused on the elderly. Our society needs to start talking about opioid abuse in the elderly. Once we acknowledge there is a problem in our society, then we can work on a solution.

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