Prescription Drug Abuse among Older Adults: A Hidden Epidemic

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When it comes to prescription drug abuse, older adults are often overlooked. Society tends to focus more on teens and young adults in terms of preventing, recognizing, and treating addiction; however, prescription drug abuse among the older population is a hidden epidemic contributing to unnecessary complications and overdoses.

Here is a closer look at the prevalence of prescription drug use and addiction among older adults.

Statistics on Prescription Drug Use and Addiction in Older Adults

  • Approximately 44% of men and 57% of women older than 65 years take 5 or more prescription and/or nonprescription drugs per week, according to a 2019 report published in U.S. Pharmacist.
  • An estimated 12% of people aged 65 and older use 10 or more prescription and/or nonprescription drugs per week.
  • Older adults between the ages of 65 and 69 use an average of 15 prescription drugs per year, according to the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists.
  • Older adults between the ages of 80 and 84 use an average of 18 prescription drugs per year.
  • An estimated 70% of adults aged 65 and older who misuse painkillers obtained the drugs from one or more doctors, while 27% got the pills from friends and relatives, according to a 2017 report from the AARP Public Policy Institute.
  • Benzodiazepines are the most commonly prescribed psychiatric medication among adults, with the rate of benzodiazepine use among older adults ranging from 15.2% to 32%, as reported by Clinics in Geriatric Medicine.

Why Are Older Adults More Susceptible to Prescription Drug Abuse?

Older adults use more prescription drugs than any other age group. An estimated 80% of adults over the age of 65 have multiple chronic health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, anxiety, and sleep conditions. These medical conditions are often treated with several prescription drugs, many of which can lead to potentially dangerous drug interactions when used at the same time. The use of multiple drugs to treat one condition is known as polypharmacy, which increases the risk for adverse effects, emergency department visits, and addiction.

Other risk factors for prescription drug abuse among the elderly include:

  • Forgetting to take medications at the same time every day, in the right doses
  • Hearing and vision loss that makes it difficult to understand or read bottle labels
  • Self-medicating for symptoms of mental illness (depression, anxiety, sadness)
  • Chronic pain
  • Lowered immunity
  • Reduced metabolism
  • Major life changes such as retirement, placement in a nursing home
  • Loss of income
  • Death of a spouse, friend, or pet
  • Disabilities or reduced mobility
  • History of substance abuse
  • Living alone

Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse in Older Adults

Sometimes it can be difficult to spot signs of prescription drug abuse in older adults on behalf of dementia and symptoms of substance abuse that closely resemble those of other medical conditions. Many healthcare providers also lack training in identifying substance abuse and addiction among the elderly, which means many cases go undetected.

Here are common signs of prescription drug abuse among older adults:

  • Doctor shopping (visiting multiple doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions)
  • Slurred speech
  • Higher number of falls
  • Hiding pill bottles
  • Using prescription drugs with alcohol
  • Being secretive about drug use
  • The onset of one or more mental health disorders
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Uncharacteristic sadness, depression, and/or agitation
  • Insomnia and sleep problems
  • Decline in personal hygiene
  • Increased anxiety
  • Problems with memory and concentration
  • High number of health complaints about nonexisting medical problems
  • Withdrawing from friends and loved ones
  • Loss of interest in long-held hobbies
  • Physical withdrawal symptoms when not using medication

If your elderly loved one is exhibiting one or more of the above signs, it is possible that professional treatment at a drug rehab center may be needed.

Detox and Drug Rehab Treatments for Older Adults

An addiction treatment center is staffed with doctors, psychologists, and other trained professionals who can properly diagnose prescription drug addiction and other substance use disorders in older adults. The staff at a drug rehab center will perform an evaluation and assessment to determine whether your loved one can benefit from drug detox and addiction treatment programs.

Doctors will work closely with all patients including elder patients to identify the root causes of their symptoms and may alter medication regimens as needed to treat the addiction without worsening existing medical conditions. Many treatment centers offer inpatient residential rehab programs in which patients are carefully monitored in a hospital-like setting to treat co-occurring medical conditions. In many cases, detox treatments for prescription drug abuse involve tapering patients gradually off the addictive substance until they are no longer physically dependent.

Dana Point Rehab Campus offers evidence-based detox and an inpatient residential rehab programs for all adults who need help recovering from prescription drug addiction. Dana Point Rehab Campus is accredited by the Joint Commission and recognized for providing safe, effective, quality addiction treatment. Call us today at 949.569.7517 to learn more about our treatment programs or complete our free insurance verification form to confirm your benefits.

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