Painkiller abuse among the elderly on the rise

elderly.pills.480Although prescription drug addiction is often portrayed as an issue affecting teens and young adults, America’s 78 million aging baby boomers are also experiencing the effects of the epidemic, according to this article in the New York Times. A 2011 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that among adults aged 50 to 59, the rate of current illicit drug use increased to 6.3% in 2011 from 2.7% in 2002; opiates were among the most commonly abused drugs, the article says.

Other studies have estimated that up to 10% of the elderly misuse prescription drugs with major abuse potential, most often anti-anxiety benzodiazepines like Klonopin, sleeping aids like Ambien, and opiate painkillers such as OxyContin, the article says. In addition, women far outnumber men when it comes to nonmedical use of prescription medication: 44% of women as opposed to 23% of men, according to SAMHSA.

One major generational difference seems to be that the elderly rarely use alcohol or drugs to “get high” — rather, they turn to alcohol and drugs in response to the physical and psychological pain due to medical and psychiatric illness, the loss of loved ones, or social isolation, the article notes.

An epidemiologic study presented at an annual meeting of the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry in December showed that approximately 20% of individuals aged 65 years and older take analgesics several times per week and that rates of abuse or addiction in those with chronic pain is 18%.

Furthermore, that study found, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone were the drugs that were most often involved in up to 40% of opiate misuse–related deaths in that population.

About Erin Marie Daly

I’m a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. My book on prescription drug and heroin addiction was published in August 2014 by Counterpoint Press.
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