20 May Prescription Drug Abuse Among Elders is a Growing Concern
An Issue on the Rise
When people think about “drug abuse,” their mind usually conjures images of young people partying, working adults juggling addiction and their career, or those involved in criminal behavior. While it is true that illicit street drug use is more prevalent in younger individuals, prescription drug abuse, misuse, and dependency within the elderly population is a growing concern.
As of 2012, individuals aged 65 and older represented approximately 13% of the total US population. However, this same group accounted for 33% of all prescription medications prescribed. This is natural, considering the many illnesses that often accompany advanced age. However, polypharmacy is associated dosing mix-ups, greater risk of dependency, and potential abuse. Furthermore, decreased liver function, memory deficits, and mental illness also potentially contribute to these prescription drug problems. Elderly individuals require close monitoring to ensure their medications are appropriate and that dosing instructions are being followed.
Many different behaviors can constitute prescription drug abuse. An individual might take more medication than required, take their medication at improper times, or mix their medications with alcohol or other drugs. Some classes of drugs which carry an increased abuse potential include anti-anxiety medications, pain medications, and sleep aid medications. Many of these medications may produce feelings of euphoria, a side effect that can initiate or potentiate misuse.
The elderly population is expected to increase dramatically as the “baby boomer” generation ages, and corresponding increases in prescription drug abuse are anticipated. While many have commented that the “World War II generation” generally avoids taking medications, this trend does not necessarily hold true for their offspring. The baby boomer generation is somewhat characterized by a different set of values and cultural norms than their parents. Illicit drug use was ubiquitous during part of this generation’s formative years in the 1960s & 1970’s, and baby boomers are generally more willing to take substances.
Well-meaning friends and family members represent one common means of inappropriately obtaining prescription drugs. Many of our medicine cabinets contain unused pain medication and other prescriptions. It may seem harmless, even altruistic, to share medicine with a suffering friend or family member. However, this practice is very dangerous; prescriptions are tailored to suit individual need, and one’s prescribed medication could be life threatening to another person. Moreover, sharing prescription medications is prohibited under federal and state law.
Managing pain and illness in the elderly population can be a tough balancing act. Many prescription drugs have a high potential for abuse and medication misuse is a growing trend. Although we should avoid baseless paranoia and suspicion of our loved ones, a few behaviors represent red flags for prescription abuse:
- Using multiple doctors and/or pharmacies for the same medication
- Taking more medication than required or more often than required
- Abrupt mood changes
- Frequently talking about a medicine
- Reacting in a defensive manner when asked about medicines
- Hording or stockpiling medicines
- Hiding medicines
If you or someone you love is misusing medications, please reach out to find a treatment center or addiction professional in your area. Recovery Services of New Mexico is committed to addressing this troubling trend and is available for treatment or referral.