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Are The Elderly Hoarding Opiate Prescription Painkillers?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse showed that prescription painkiller use nearly doubled all other illicit drug use combined (with the exception of marijuana) in 2012. There is no question that prescription drug use is a serious problem in the United States which is effecting people of all ages. About one-third of Medicare patients who are prescribed prescription painkillers receive them from more than one doctor. This is commonly known as doctor shopping. The question here is, “do the elderly know they are committing a crime?” Are the elderly filling prescriptions for pain medications from more than one doctor because they are addicted or dependent on their medications?

Prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and morphine are extremely addictive medications that are used to treat moderate to severe pain. They are commonly prescribed to the elderly for pain and prescriptions for these drugs have drastically increased over the past 20 years. Are we creating a nation of addicted elderly?

According to a study published February 19th in the journal BMJ, researchers analyzed data from 1.8 million people enrolled in Medicare's prescription benefit (Part D) who filled at least one narcotic prescription in 2010. Medicare is a Government program setup to help the elderly pay for their medical checkups and medication..

Researchers were surprised to find that 30 percent of elderly patients were prescribed narcotic painkillers from more than one doctor. Many of these cases had four or more prescribers! It seems to me that many of our elderly are becoming hooked on their medications. Normally, opiate withdrawal is not life threatening unless you are a senior citizen. The stresses that opiate withdrawal puts on the body can be too harsh for an elderly person and may cause deadly complications.

Our elderly may have been taking these medications for a long period of time. Tolerance to these medications grows fairly rapidly. The body becomes used to the dosages and needs more of the medication to work on the pain. Therefore if one doctor is not prescribing enough of the medication to the elderly patient to help them treat their pain, they may go looking elsewhere while still visiting that same doctor. No one wants to hear that they are addicted to their medication, especially older people. They may be stocking up on as many pills as they can to keep their pain in check and prevent the horrible symptoms of withdrawal that may be life threatening to them.

This is a topic I never really put much thought into until reading this study. It makes you wonder how many senior citizens are taking powerful prescription painkillers for ailments. If caught are we supposed to prosecute them for doctor shopping? Do they get a free pass for being elderly? They can always play the role of misunderstanding or being confused and it wouldn't be right to press charges against them right? I am not sure where I stand on this issue as of right now but I am concerned for the health of our elderly citizens.


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