Senior Living Care Blog

Prescription Drug Abuse vs Misuse for Senior Citizens

Posted by Joe Gilmore on Dec 10, 2018 11:00:00 AM


Prescription painkillers have become more prevalent over the past as prescriptions in the United States have increased and have lead to widespread abuse among millions of Americans. The number of annual prescription drug overdose deaths is in the tens of thousands and has become a national public health emergency. Data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention helps to illustrate the problem.


From 2011 to 2014, almost 49 percent of people in the country were using at least one prescription drug, with 11.9 percent using five or more prescription drugs. Similarly, in 2015 over three-fourths of physician visit involved drug therapy and there were over 3.7 billion drugs ordered or provided during that year.


While prescription drugs have affected nearly everyone in the country in some way or another, but The Department of Health and Human Services, found that as of 2014, prescription drug misuse and abuse is increasing among people 50 years old and over. The HHS says that older adults are at a higher risk for medication misuse than the normal population because of their increased rates of pain, anxiety and sleep disorders.



Prescription Drug Abuse

An older man taking prescription medication from the bottle

According to the HHS, approximately 25 percent of all older adults who use prescription medication that have the potential to be misused and abused and older adults are also more likely to take the medications for longer periods of time. The Mayo Clinic has also identified prescription drug abuse as a growing problem for older individuals, stating that having multiple health problems and taking multiple drugs can put seniors at risk of abusing these drugs and becoming addicted.


But what exactly is prescription abuse and how is it different than prescription misuse?


Drug abuse is defined as deliberately taking drugs to experience the high, or feelings of euphoria and other sensations, that come with it.



Prescription Misuse

According to the National Institute of Drug abuse, misuse of prescription drugs is defined as taking a medication in a manner or dose that is other than prescribed. This can include taking someone else’s prescription, even if it is for an actual medical problem. If you are taking a friend or loved one’s medication, even with their permission, it is considered prescription misuse.


So prescription drug abuse is a type of misuse because taking the drug deliberately to get a high is still not the manner that it was prescribed.


Prescription drugs can be dangerous, especially if you are using them not in the way they were intended to be used. To combat this, it is recommended that you reach out to a healthcare professional to ensure that you are using the drugs in the correct way and not risking your health.


There are three classes of medication that are commonly misused:



Opioids are a family of drugs that are naturally formed from the opium poppy plant, they are generally prescribed to treat pain. Opioids have jumped more into the spotlight in recent years as the country has become victim to an opioid crisis that has caused thousands of overdoses and affected the lives of millions more. Opioids affect the brain by activating opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord and other organs to block pain signals and release large amounts of dopamine throughout the body.


Opioid misuse can cause slowed breathing, coma, permanent brain damage, and death if the problem is severe enough.


Some common opioids that are prescribed include oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and many others.


Central Nervous System Depressants

CNS depressants consist of sedatives, tranquilizers, and hypnotics. The use of these drugs slows brain activity which makes them useful for treating anxiety, panic, stress, and sleep disorders. These types of drugs affect the brain by increasing activity of a chemical that inhibits brain activity.


Users can overdose on CNS depressants and if this occurs it can produce life-threatening symptoms and even death.


Some common types of CNS depressants that are prescribed include valium, xanax, ambien and klonopin.



Stimulants are often prescribed to people who have trouble focusing and suffer from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Stimulants affect the brain by increasing activity of dopamine and norepinephrine. Dopamine is involved in the reinforcement of rewarding behaviors and norepinephrine affects the cardiovascular system.


If misused, stimulants can cause psychosis, anger, or paranoia. Some prescription stimulants include adderall and ritalin.


Misuse is more common, however still as dangerous, as abuse. Many adults take more than the prescribed amount of their medication and may take it in other ways. For example, some people will use leftover prescriptions that they still have if they are experiencing pain that they think the respective prescription can help alleviate.


This is why it is important to participate in drug prescription take back programs that let individuals get rid of their leftover medications to curb misuse and abuse. This year on national Prescription Drug Take Back Day, the Drug Enforcement Agency collected and destroyed close to one million pounds of expired, unused, and unwanted prescription drugs


Taking prescriptions irresponsibility by combining them with alcohol can also be a health risk. As people age, bodies will clear medication and alcohol from them more slowly and can cause adverse effects from many prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.


Identifying issues with prescription drug abuse or misuse and early intervention can help prevent the problem from turning into an addiction.



In Conclusion

Whether is be prescription abuse or misuse, the effects of the problems can be harmful to the user. It is important to know the difference between the two and to understand what prescription misuse is, as a lot of people who are misusing drugs do not realize it. However, it is more important to change habits if you or a loved one is abusing or misusing prescription drugs. Sometimes changing an environment can help with this. At Landmark Senior Living we offer our residents a long list of amenities and social activities to help keep them healthy and entertained as they age.


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Topics: Senior Health

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