The opioid epidemic in the United States takes the lives of tens of thousands of Americans each year. Data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, says that 72,000 people died in 2017, 30,000 of which were due to synthetic opioids, predominantly fentanyl. Older individuals are one of the most at-risk groups for opioid misuse in the country.
According to SAMHSA, “the baby boomer generation ages and the population of older adults in the United States grows, opioid misuse among older Americans is becoming an increasingly urgent public health concern.” The population of older adults who misuse opioids is projected to double from 2004 to 2020 from 1.2 percent to 2.4 percent.
Despite the risks of opioid use, the medication can still be a valuable tool for treating pain and improving quality of life, especially for older adults who are dealing with chronic pain. Learning about opioid misuse and how to prevent it is one way to ensure that you aren’t using pain medication in a dangerous way.
What is Opioid Misuse?
According to the National Institutes on Drug Abuse, more than 80 percent of older patients use at least one prescription on a daily basis, and more than 50 percent are taking more than five medication or supplements a day. Due to the high volume of prescription drug use in the elderly community, unintentionally using a prescription medication in a way other than prescribed is likely. This is opioid misuse.
Using a prescription medication in any way that was not how it was intended to be used under prescription is considered opioid misuse. There are a few simple ways to ensure that you or a loved one is not misusing opioids. Obviously, taking a higher dose than the prescribed amount is one of the most frequent ways that opioids are misused. Similarly, taking a prescription longer than the amount of time it was prescribed can be dangerous as well.
One of the most common form of opioid misuse is giving someone else your prescription. Even if they are experiencing pain and the medication may be a pain reliever, it is still illegal to give another person drugs that were prescribed to you.
Why Older Individuals Are At Risk
Opioid abuse is something that does not discriminate. It affects people of all race, gender, ethnicity, and age. In fact, older individuals are one of the most at-risk populations. One of the reasons that the elderly are more affected by the opioid epidemic is because, not only are seniors given prescriptions at high rates, they are more affected by the medications and the medications are slower to leave their systems. Because of these things, older adults have a greater risk of injury, hospitalization, and death when using opioids.
Prescription use disorders are prevalent in older adults and can lead to significant neurological problems and even death. It is also important to note that older individuals are at risk not just opioids, but other prescription drugs like benzodiazepines and stimulants.
While many perceive the opioid epidemic as young, there is a lot of intersection with older adults. According to statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, opioid abuse has declined in younger groups but has almost doubled for Americans over age 50.
What Can Be Done?
The opioid epidemic has obviously had serious consequences in the United States, for all people. While there is no one silver bullet to fix the opioid problem, there are a number of things that being done and can be done to cut down on opioid misuse and abuse. For example, just educating yourself on the details that pertain to a specific prescription is one thing that everyone can do to cut down on opioid misuse. Similarly, education campaigns and activism is a good way to bring attention to opioid addiction, and even opioid use among seniors.
One national campaign, Crisis Next Door, was started under the Trump administration. The awareness campaign was started to bring the opioid epidemic more into the spotlight. The website features personal testimonials from regular American citizens and some celebrities, including famous MLB star Darryl Strawberry. The point of the campaign is to address the fact that opioids, and other prescriptions, can affect anyone and to show how prevalent prescription medication abuse is in the country.
Prescription drug monitoring programs and state-run electronic databases can both be used to track prescriptions and dispensing numbers and methods. Using these types of monitoring methods can be effective in lowering the prescription rates and overdose rates.
There has also been legislative efforts to reduce the effects that opioids have had on the country. One recent example of this is the SUPPORT (Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment) ACT, that was signed into law in late 2018. The comprehensive bill has a number of measures, including increased monitoring of prescriptions and fentanyl, preventing addiction for susceptible seniors, and crackdown on the counterfeit drug industry.
The opioid epidemic in the country is something that kills tens of thousands of Americans each year and affects millions more. The opioid crisis is something that affects all groups of people, especially older individuals. Older Americans are sometimes even more susceptible to opioid misuse. This is in part due to the number of prescriptions that they have access to, similarly, their bodies are more vulnerable to the effects of the drugs and are even slower to leave their system. However, using these medications in their proper, prescribed method, and learning more about the effects of prescriptions is one way to safely use opioids for pain relief.
Living alone, without immediate access to medical professionals may put some people at risk. Assisted living facilities can help older individuals not only with prescription issues but with other medical conditions and can even provide them with the type of social interaction they need. At Landmark Senior Living, we our facilities and care staff are prepared to help you or your loved one with their next chapter in life. If you are interested and would like a complimentary walk through of one of our facilities, please reach out to our admissions staff today.