When we think of the opioid epidemic, we don’t usually think of it afflicting older adults. That’s a mistake. Older adults are as susceptible to opioid and subsequent illicit drug addiction as younger people.
The nonprofit National Council on Seniors Drug and Alcohol Rehab says 25 percent of all prescription drugs sold in the United States go to older adults and 11 percent of the older adult population suffers from some form of prescription drug abuse. With people living longer and the over-65 US population expected to reach 85 million by 2050, the Council believes it is time to bring the issue of older adult drug and alcohol addiction out of the shadows.
Older adults fall prey to the same addictive pathways as younger people – narcotic painkillers and anti-anxiety sedatives. They also endure triggering events common to aging – social isolation, unplanned retirement, death of friends, memory loss and money problems.
Slower metabolism leaves older adults more vulnerable to drug and alcohol abuse and dangerous interactions with other prescription drugs for chronic illnesses. Doctors may not be as perceptive to the risks for older adults who have diminished immune systems, mental anxiety and greater likelihood of falls.
The result is older adult addiction often goes unrecognized and undiagnosed. When painkillers are prescribed, doctors may authorize oversupplies because of older adult difficulties in getting to doctor’s offices.
Increasing numbers of addicted older adults has led to more treatment centers dedicated to that population. Because of the effects of aging and typically a mix of health issues, going cold turkey isn’t an option. Group counseling can be very useful for an adult population that often feels the stress of social isolation. The Council urges older adults and their families to review Medicare and supplemental insurance policies to see what kind of treatment and recovery programs are available and covered.
“According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), older adults may be the population we should be looking out for the most, considering they are more likely to take more medications for longer rates, or take multiple long-term medications that are known for possible addiction.”