Why Are Older Adults At Risk For Prescription Drug Abuse?

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Elderly adults commonly take two types of medicines that have a high potential for addiction: Opioids and Benzodiazepines.

Most older adults who suffer from prescription drug abuse do so by accident, reports FamilyDoctor.org. They take more medicine than other age groups.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), about 3 in 10 people between ages 57 to 85 use at least 5 prescriptions. This increases the risk for mistakes and drug abuse.

Growing older also slows down your body’s ability to absorb and filter medicines. This means that an older adult might become addicted to or have side effects from a prescription drug at a lower dose than a younger adult.

Path to improved health

A person can abuse any type of prescription drug. Elderly adults commonly take 2 types of medicines that have a high potential for addiction.

  • Opioidsare used to control pain. Examples include oxycodone (OxyContin), oxycodone with acetaminophen (Percocet), and hydrocodone with acetaminophen (Vicodin). A person can become addicted if they take an opioid for a long period of time or take too much of an opioid.
  • Benzodiazepinesare used to treat anxiety, panic attacks, or insomnia. Examples include diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), and lorazepam (Ativan). A person can become addicted if they take the drug for a long period of time.

Symptoms of prescription drug abuse can be hard to recognize in older adults. This is because they are similar to symptoms of aging. For instance, confusion and memory loss are symptoms of both.

If you care for or spend time with an older adult, be aware of their medicines and behavior. The following are warning signs that someone may be abusing prescription drugs. If they:

  • Get a prescription for the same medicine from two different doctors.
  • Fill a prescription for the same medicine at two different pharmacies.
  • Take more of a medicine than they used to or take more than is instructed on the label.
  • Take the medicine at different times or more often than is instructed on the label.
  • Become more withdrawn or angry.
  • Appear confused or forgetful.
  • Often talk about a medicine.
  • Are afraid to go somewhere without taking a medicine.
  • Are defensive when you ask about a medicine.
  • Make excuses for why they need a medicine.
  • Store “extra” pills in their purse or in their pocket.
  • Sneak or hide medicine.
  • Have been treated for alcohol, drug, or prescription drug abuse in the past.

When to see a doctor

If you suspect that an older adult is abusing a prescription drug, contact their doctor right away. Tell them about your concerns. The doctor will likely make an appointment to evaluate the person. They can diagnose if the problem is prescription drug abuse. The doctor also will help determine treatment.

Treatment options for prescription drug abuse vary by person. It depends on what drug is abused, the degree of addiction, and the risk of having a withdrawal of the drug. Treatment may include counseling, medicine, or both.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Do I take any medicines that could cause a drug interaction?
  • What should I do if I feel like I’ve become dependent on a medicine?
  • What is the best way to organize medicines so I don’t make a mistake?
  • What are the symptoms for prescription drug abuse?
  • How do I know if I need help?


Courtesy FamilyDoctor.org