As the baby boom generation enters retirement age, they represent an enormous demographic. Their new stage in life will present new challenges for the culture. One concern is the number of older Americans who will be taking, and potentially abusing, prescription drugs. The abuse of prescription medications is already a problem in this country, but as more Americans become senior citizens the risk for prescription drug abuse escalates. Friends and family members need to be aware of the potential and keep an eye out for signs that abuse may be occurring. First off, abuse occurs whenever a person uses a prescription medication in a way other than prescribed by the doctor. It could mean taking too much of the medication, taking it too often or taking another person’s prescribed drugs. The elderly are at a high risk for prescription drug abuse for several reasons.
- Elderly people take lots of prescription medications. Those over age 65 currently comprise 13 percent of the general population, but they consume more than 30 percent of the drugs prescribed in this country.
- Older Americans typically take several prescription medications each day to treat multiple issues.
- As we age, memory is not as strong as it once was. This is normal, but it does pose a risk for older people. Normal forgetfulness means that it is easy for them to miss a dose or inadvertently take multiple doses of their medication.
- Age affects not only a person’s memory, but really all of his/her body systems. Things are working less efficiently and much slower. The liver, for example, does not perform its filtering functions as effectively as we get older. When we are young, the liver does a great job of protecting the body from too many foreign chemicals by cleansing our blood quickly and thoroughly. When the liver function slows down, chemicals remain longer in the system. This means that a person will experience more effects from a drug even with a lower dosage.
- Older adults are also living with more pain than younger ones. The aches and pains associated with aging, make it much more likely that older adults are using prescription opioids to manage their pain. Opioids are strong painkillers, but they are also highly addictive if they are taken for too long or in too large a dose.
There are ways to know if an older person in your life has become addicted to opioid drugs or some other prescription medication, these include if the person is:
- seeing more than one doctor for the same prescription medication
- visiting more than one pharmacy in order to buy the same prescription medication
- taking more medicine than the label suggests or taking the medicine more frequently than prescribed
- avoids conversations about their medication
- hoards or hides medication
- shows behavior changes like sudden anger or becoming socially withdrawn
- has a history of substance abuse
If you are concerned about an older person in your life, talk to his/her prescribing physician about your worries. The situation can be rectified with kindness, attention and with intervention.