Seniors Could Use Online Drug Class

by Mike Miller December 3, 2011

An often forgotten segment of the population when it comes to substance abuse is senior citizens. Perhaps it is because people think they are “older and wiser,” and would not be addicted to chemical substances. That certainly is not always the case.

Part of the Problem

Seniors, who often take multiple medications prescribed by different doctors, are at risk for prescription drug abuse and may be subject to overdose and interaction side effects from those medications.

People aged 65 and older comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population, yet account for a third of the population using prescription drugs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Nearly 20 percent of the 125 unintentional prescription drug deaths last year in Montgomery County, Maryland were people age 55 and older.

Some of those deaths were accidental but others were not so benign, said Russel Falck, a Wright State associate professor.

More Stats                                         

Between 1997 and 2008 the rate of U.S. hospital admissions for conditions related to prescription medication and illicit drug use grew by 96 percent for people ages 65 to 85, and increased 87 percent for people age 85 and older, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Seniors abusing controlled substances, either prescription or off the street, represent a very small percentage of our elderly population, nevertheless, they are there and many need help.

Overdose deaths from prescription painkillers have skyrocketed in the past decade and are a public health epidemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in 20 people in the U.S., ages 12 and older, used prescription painkillers without a prescription or just for the “high” they cause in 2010, the CDC said.

The use of narcotic pain relievers such as OxyContin and oxycodone has increased nearly 1,000 percent on a per capita basis since 1997, said Orman Hall, director of the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services.

About 80 percent of seniors have at least one chronic health condition and 50 percent have at least two, according to SAMHSA.

The use of multiple medications, or “polypharmacy,” can increase a person’s risk for bad interactions and unintended side effects, especially in older patients who metabolize drugs differently than younger people.

Taking opioids for pain in conjunction with benzodiazepine drugs such as Xanax and Valium for sleep or anxiety disorders can be a dangerous combination. Nearly 60 percent of Montgomery County’s (Ohio) unintentional prescription drug deaths last year involved a combination of opioids and benzodiazepines.

Education is important. Seniors are becoming more technologically proficient and I think a good online drug class.

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