America is waking up to the opioid epidemic sweeping across the nation. In the last 20 years, the abuse of prescription and non-prescription opioid drugs has skyrocketed. The numbers from the CDC are shocking:
- On average, 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
- Approximately 66% of drug overdose deaths in 2016 involved an opioid.
- More than 40% of opioid overdose deaths involve prescription opioid.
President Trump announced last October that the opioid crisis is a Nationwide Public Health Emergency, and a special commission released a report with specific recommendations for battling the epidemic. The administration has already begun acting on these suggestions with a number of initiatives. Locally, hospitals and other organizations are mobilizing to solve the crisis. Saint Peter’s Healthcare System in New Brunswick formed a task force to address the epidemic.
“New Jersey is confronting a staggering public health crisis brought about by prescription opioid abuse,” said Linda Carroll, chief nursing officer at St. Peter’s Healthcare System. “This is an epidemic that knows no economic, racial or geographic limits, and it’s one we must fight with education and resources.”
The task force held a forum at the beginning of the month to educate the public and raise awareness. Another event is scheduled for next Tuesday, April 24, to discuss recovery from opioid addiction.
What are Opioid Drugs?
Opioids are natural or synthetic chemicals that relieve pain by interacting with the opioid receptors on the brain’s nerve cells. In addition to pain relief, they also produce euphoria, which makes them likely to be abused. Opioid drugs are perfectly legal and safe when prescribed by your doctor and taken for a short time according to your doctor’s instructions. Oxycodone, codeine, and morphine are just some of the legal prescription pain medications doctors prescribe to patients after surgery or in other situations. Prescriptions for opioids have increased steadily since 1999, and more and more patients become addicted to their pain meds every year. Opioids also include illegal drugs, such as heroin. If an addict loses access to his prescription medications, he’ll often turn to heroin or synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
How the Opioid Epidemic Affects Seniors
Many older adults take OxyContin, Percocet, or Vicoden to manage chronic or acute pain. Age slows the body’s metabolism and ability to absorb medicine, so seniors are more likely to become addicted to pain relief medications than younger adults. In addition, approximately 65% of seniors use at least three prescription medications. That leaves a lot of room for mistakes or forgetfulness; in fact, studies show that most older adults who abuse prescription drugs do so by accident.
Anyone who takes an opioid for a long period of time is at risk of becoming addicted, but seniors are even more susceptible because of the above reasons. It can be hard to spot drug abuse in your elderly loved one, since the symptoms are so similar to regular aging. For example, confusion, memory loss, and fatigue are common symptoms of both.
Keep track of your loved one’s prescriptions, especially if they are taking an opioid. Here are some warning signs of addiction to look out for:
- They get a prescription for the same medicine from two different doctors.
- They fill a prescription for the same medicine at two different pharmacies.
- They don’t follow the prescription label’s instructions.
- They appear more confused or forgetful than usual, or become withdrawn or angry.
- They get defensive when you ask about it, or make excuses for why they need to take it.
- They keep extra pills in their purse or pocket.
- They’ve had a problem with alcohol or drug abuse in the past.
If you have reason to believe your loved one is abusing their prescription drugs, contact their doctor immediately. The doctor can evaluate the patient and determine if there is addiction and what the appropriate treatment would be. Treatment depends on the circumstances of the drug abuse, and typically includes counseling, medication, and/or lifestyle changes.