Since the pandemic, drug abuse among older people has increased significantly. Research reveals that people 60 to 85 years old in the U.S. use, on average, 5 or more prescription drugs. In some cases, the number of prescriptions is staggering – around 18 medications at one time.

For many seniors, abusing prescription drugs becomes a means of escape, a way to change how they feel and get away from feelings, such as depression, fear, pain, or loneliness. Both age discrimination and losing loved ones can lead to these emotional barriers that cause isolation, and these feelings are alleviated they over-rely on their prescriptions.

Why Overprescribing Drugs to Older People Has Become a Habit

One of the problems is the over prescription of medicines. Greed is the one contributor, with Big Pharma rewarding doctors who write out more prescriptions. Lack of education amongst doctors about the dangers of habit-forming medications is another culprit.

Many Baby Boomers with health issues are faced with conditions that lead to chronic pain. Also, some older people undergo more operations or tend to get involved in more mishaps due to falling. When these events happen, the elderly are often given opiate painkillers – medicines that are highly addictive.

Frequently Prescribed Opioids

Some of opiates frequently prescribed to older people include:

  • Oxycontin
  • Hydrocodone
  • Roxicodone
  • Codeine
  • Vicodin

Other Habit-Forming Drugs

Other habit-forming drugs prescribed to seniors include those that relieve insomnia, panic attacks, and anxiousness. Known as benzodiazepines, these drugs may include:

  • Xanax
  • Ativan
  • Librium
  • Valium
  • Halcion
  • Flurazepam

Even milder versions of the aforementioned prescriptions can be addictive. Plus, overdosing is easy to do, especially if a patient doubles up after missing a dose or combines the drug with alcohol. Even if patients take the medicines exactly as prescribed they may, after a time, become dependent. Any combination of these drugs can turn into a lethal cocktail.

To avoid problems with withdrawal, doctors usually wean a patient slowly off a drug by reducing the dose. Benzodiazepine addiction can lead to death from withdrawal. Alcohol dependent users can also die from withdrawal symptoms. Detoxing with medical monitoring is recommended for any physically addicted person.

Signs of an Addiction Problem

An elderly loved one or friend may have problems with prescription abuse if you notice the following signs:

  • Slurred speaking
  • Moodiness
  • Irritability
  • Overtaking a medicine
  • Taking multiple prescriptions of one drug
  • Seeing more than one physician for a condition

One frequent indicator of prescription abuse is abusing multiple prescriptions, and this is often discovered posthumously to be a contributing factor to the explosion in accidental overdoses that happened during the pandemic.


Tips to Help Prevent Accidental Overdose

Patients need to make sure that all doctors are aware of their comorbidities and the potential interaction of their prescribed medications.  Doctors advise that patients buy a compartmentalized drug organizer – one that features the times and day on each section.  It is also recommended that patients should keep all their prescriptions in one place and make a point to throw out old medicines whenever new drugs are added to their organizers. Patients should take their medicines regularly and tell the doctor if a drug is doing more harm than good.

The idea is to use medication wisely to treat the condition for which it is prescribed and not depend on the drug for emotional or physical support. By being vigilant and following these steps, seniors should be able to more safely enjoy the benefits of medications.

About the Author: Scott H. Silverman has been fighting against addiction for almost 40 years. He is the CEO of Confidential Recovery, an outpatient rehab in San Diego


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