It seems that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has made some recent discoveries. What they have discovered is that the nation’s drug epidemic has also impacted seniors, much like the rest of the population, and they are struggling with it.
Apparently, there are two different factors that are leading the elderly population of the country towards getting addicted to opioids. The first factor is baby boomers, who when compared to other groups in the country, have indulged in relatively higher levels of substance abuse over the course of their lives. The second factor is the fact that doctors generally write a greater number of opioid painkiller prescriptions to elderly patients than to younger ones.
According to a study that was conducted back in 2003, there were 1.7 million elderly people who required substance abuse treatment. The study projected that by 2020, that number could rise to 4.4 million. Recent figures that have been reported also reveal that back in 2015, 908,000 people who were misusing prescription opioid painkillers were 65 years old or older than that.
For many years, doctors have been writing prescriptions for opioid pain medications to elderly patients for all sorts of ailments, such as arthritis, back pain and joint pain. According to a recent study conducted last year in 2016, an opioid painkiller prescription was provided to 15% of elderly patients across 2,512 hospitals throughout the country before they were discharged. 42% of those senior patients continued taking those prescribed medications even three months after they had been discharged.
Back in 2014, opioid pain medications were being aggressively favored by the American Geriatric Society. They even published new guidelines to coax and persuade doctors to begin providing opioid therapy to elderly patients, even those who were suffering from moderate aches rather than serious pain. According to American Geriatric Society’s panel, the likelihood of elderly individuals getting addicted to opioid painkillers was relatively less than young people.
Unfortunately, there this claim is imperfect and there is a weakness to it. It cannot be denied that changes occur in the central nervous system, heart and liver as people age, which means that elderly people are not able to absorb such medications easily. Consequently, they are actually more likely to not only experience detrimental side effects of opioid medications, but also overdose on them.
According to more latest studies, new opioid treatments need to be developed that will be targeted specifically towards the elderly and existing prescription guidelines need to be more stringent. However, considering how rigorously opioids have been marketed to doctors in the past, these are likely to get ignored by some of them.
Considering that projections suggest that there will be a surge in the rates of senior opioid addiction, it is a good thing that doctors continue to be education about how potentially dangerous opioid therapy is for the elderly. They are even being advised to promote non-opioid painkillers to all their patients, so that the likelihood of addiction can be minimized. Effective non-opioid treatment is available for seniors, they just need to consult with their doctors. Even family members should inquire their their elderly family members about the prescription drugs they are taking.