Exceeding prescribed doses and getting addicted to prescription painkillers to manage pain is a serious worldwide concern that has crippling long-term effects, not only on younger adults but also on the elderly who often remain unnoticed. According to a recent report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), people aged 65 years or older in America account for more than one-third of the total spending on prescription medications.
Many physical, psychological and social factors have been identified to cause prescription drug abuse in older adults with some of the most common reasons being serious injuries, chronic pain, inability to sleep, depression due to loss of loved ones or the pain of being separated from family.
According to health care experts, constant thoughts about any prescribed medication and fears of daily life-related activities coming to a standstill in the absence of it is a sure sign of addiction. Additionally, when people get habituated to take medications at different times in higher doses than what is prescribed by their physician, it may result in harmful consequences.
Addiction is not limited to younger generation
Dorothy Hatfield, now 75, resorted to painkillers after a knee replacement surgery. It helped her get relief from the excruciating pain following the surgery. Besides, she was constantly haunted by the woes of loneliness, ever since her husband died 10 years ago. Anxiety and depression gradually crept in adding to her miserable condition and agony.
Thus, to escape from her worries, she found herself on an opioid pill-popping rollercoaster, which took her on doctor shopping spree. Hopping from one doctor to another to obtain valid prescriptions to feed her craving for prescription painkillers, Dorothy was soon caught in the web of prescription drug abuse. She slowly developed a high tolerance to the medicines and needed higher doses each time to achieve the same level of relief. Finally, the pills inflicted significant damage on her physical and mental well-being, which led to a range of severe side effects, including mental disorders such as dementia.
Unfortunately, very few doctors and medical practitioners in America screen patients for addiction, which makes it difficult to detect the problem at an early stage.
Preventing abuse of prescription medications
Both doctors and patients can play a significant role in identifying any unapproved use of prescription medications, as well as preventing doctor shopping. Efforts must be made to incorporate more evidence-based screening tools as part of any consultation process. Moreover, people suffering from painful conditions may be prescribed other alternative forms of treatment, if required.
It is also important to spread awareness about the dangers of overdose and the outcome of mixing prescription medicines with other drugs and alcohol. Senior citizens need to be provided with useful information on nonnarcotic methods of managing pain and help them build healthier relationships and enhance self-esteem. Pharmacists are also required to identify counterfeit prescriptions or any alterations which could lead to abuse or overdose.
Helping seniors quit addiction
Therefore, while it is important to create awareness about diverse risk factors associated with addiction in old age, elderly people should be kept under vigilance in terms of handling prescription drugs. When it comes to older adults, the two major factors responsible for their high vulnerability to prescription drug abuse are: tolerance to prescription medicines and slowing rate of metabolism.