The Guide to The Elderly and Opioid Addiction

It might come as a surprise that elderly generations are affected just as much by prescription opioids.
elderly man and wife sit on a bench together at the beach

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The Elderly and Opioid Addiction

It is a common misconception in the United States that young people are the primary population affected by opioid addiction. It might come as a surprise that elderly generations are affected just as much by prescription opioids. So how can be gain a better understanding of the elderly and opioid addiction?

Between 2010 and 2015, opioid-related hospitalizations increased 34 percent, and emergency room visits increased 74 percent. The biggest reason that older generations are falling into opioid addiction involves an aging body.

With an older body comes pain from living a long, demanding life. Prescription opioid use by the elderly has been increasing and will not go away anytime soon. It is a challenge that many older individuals must be aware of. Knowing the dangers and how to avoid them are vital in not facing the consequences of addiction.

Are you or someone you love experiencing opioid abuse? Call us today at (888) 906-0952, and we can guide you through this process of healing and starting the road to recovery!

Prescription Opioids Can Be Damaging to the Elderly

The media highlights the opioid pandemic as a young person’s battle when it is everyone’s battle. Members of the baby boomer generation specifically have accounted for the major growth of opioid misuse.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DOHHS) has begun researching the recent growth. They found that in 2016 14.4 million beneficiaries received an opioid prescription. Of those individuals, 500,000 were prescribed large doses. Between 2002 and 2014, it was also reported prescription opioid use by the elderly was on the rise.

“Many perceive the face of opioid addiction as young. The epidemic, however, intersects just as much with older adults,” Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) said during a hearing in 2018. “While there is no silver bullet to ending this scourge, Congress and this Committee are fighting back on multiple fronts. We are making progress, but we must continue to reexamine this issue from every angle, as the opioid crisis continues to tighten its grip not only on older adults but also on the future generations of America.”

Opioids’ impact on the elderly community is estimated to be at a new high in 2020. Past Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) research estimated that older people with substance use disorder (SUD) would rise to 5.7 million in 2020. These numbers were a huge leap from the 2.8 million affected between 2002 and 2006. These numbers are far higher than any other generation before them. Due to this rise in opioid use by seniors, there has been a rise in physical and mental health issues.

Social and family settings are also feeling the consequences of opioid addiction by older adults. Since older people already have poorer health conditions, the addition of substance abuse only furthers the chances for negative consequences.

It has become more common to see accidental overdoses from older individuals, but what has started this connection between opioids and seniors?

Chronic Pain Can Lead to Opioid Abuse

Opioids in the elderly community will continue to grow due to the pains many older individuals deal with. As individuals age, chronic pain becomes more prevalent. Many doctors are becoming more aware of opioid misuse by older generations.

According to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), older individuals need extra care to use opioids because they tend to have impaired physical reserves, slower metabolisms, and excretion. The rate of chronic pain found in older individuals’ communities is higher than many assume and even higher for those in nursing homes.

Chronic pain makes up 25 to 50 percent of individuals living in elderly communities, while nearly 70 percent of the elderly report feeling chronic pain in nursing homes. This rise in chronic pain due to aging has been the leading reason for opioid abuse among them.

The American Geriatrics Society (AGS) found in their research that nearly 80 percent of the elderly in long-term residential care have substantial chronic pain. Furthermore, only 25 percent of those dealing with pain were not taking any medication whatsoever.

One of the biggest challenges for physicians and doctors trying to take care of older individuals is the rapid change in medications.

Older bodies cannot handle the intense alterations that medications have undergone, making the treatment for chronic pain difficult. This leads to misuse between opioids and seniors to try to lessen the chronic pain they feel. Even though opioid misuse is so high among the elderly, the World Health Organization (WHO) still believes that opiate analgesics should be used for treatment.

The WHO recommends that chronic pain and opioid use among the elderly be contained in a clinical setting. If medical professionals have control over dosage and scheduling for opioid distribution, addiction could be controlled.

The NLM found that six primary opiates get abused by older people.

  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Codeine
  • Methadone

Major Risks of Opioid Abuse in the Elderly

Misusing opioids does not simply relate to an accidental overdose. There can be several other risks that come with misusing opioids as an older individual. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has found in studies that many seniors are likely to be involved with mortality causing accidents. These include severe falls and body fractures.

Additionally, the older the body becomes, the weaker it is when ingesting substances. The AHRQ found that more hospitalizations are occurring from older individuals who do not misuse their prescriptions. These hospitalizations are caused due to natural aging and alterations that occur from aging. Specifically, human metabolism changes drastically as aging takes place.

Major risk factors that medical professionals must watch for include:

  • Cognitive Impairment – failure to remember, learn, concentrate or make a decision
  • Polypharmacy – the process of using multiple drugs together to treat a condition
  • Altered hepatic or renal drug metabolism – the body’s ability to metabolize drugs in the body
  • Respiratory weakness – breathing weakness
  • Hypogonadism – reduction of testosterone or hormone production from genitalia
  • Osteoporosis – the weakening of bones in the body
  • Physical Harm – falling, fractures, weak bones

Prescription opioid use by the elderly has also affected the ability to diagnose cognitive decline and dementia in many patients properly. Leaving these untreated can alter how opioids are prescribed, resulting in accidental overdose.

The AHRQ also warns of seeing multiple health care providers. Many of them do not share information about a single patient resulting in multiple prescriptions being issued. This also leads to dangers such as overdose.

It is also important to understand that some older individuals will recreationally use opioid prescriptions. It is difficult to recognize who these individuals are since many elderly experience pain differently. This makes pinpointing those using opioids on purpose harder to find within the population of seniors.

Addiction Treatment for the Elderly

Treatments will vary from person to person. One aspect that should be looked for when searching for a rehabilitation center is personalizing the treatment to your needs. Before getting into treatment, older individuals will have to want to go first. This is where treatment can get tricky for older generations.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has found that older people do not enter treatment as often as they should. This is partly because substance abuse goes unrecognized for most individuals. They believe this happens because for a few reasons.

First, the baby boomer generation has a history of drug use during their lifetime. The cultural norms were different during their time, so drug use was viewed very differently by them. Secondly, the ease of access to certain prescription medications makes drug use even easier to do. The NIDA found that elderly individuals who do enter treatment see similar recovery results to those of a younger age.

According to information presented by the Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS), there were only 14 230 elderly treatment admissions in 2012.

The definition of the elderly that the TEDS are using is anyone over the age of 65. They found in their data that only 17 elderly individuals began treatment on their terms on an average daily basis. That resulted in 22 others being involuntarily admitted to treatment for their wellbeing, ranging from the criminal justice system or other healthcare professionals.

While treatment is not the first option for older people struggling, families should take the first step and get them involved. Working with support groups can help free an individual from the grip of addictive substances. It all starts with researching treatment programs and walking with rehabilitation centers to find the right one for your loved one.

How to Move Forward and Get Help For Yourself or a Loved One

Older individuals can take control of their personal prescription use by listening to their doctors and understanding the dangers. Opioids were created for a reason and should not be immediately distrusted, but if moderation is not implemented, they can ruin your life.

Chronic pain can be avoided with the proper prescription dosage, so listen to your doctor. Keep your prescriptions away from young ones so they cannot gain access to them. Approach opioid use with intelligence and education on the drug you’re using to get the most of it.

If you’re experiencing addiction or dependency on opioid drugs, reach out for help. Drug rehab can positively impact their lives and get them back to living a life free of addiction to opioids.

Are you or someone you love experiencing opioid addiction? Our helpline is free and confidential. Dial (888) 906-0952 and press 1.

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