Prescription Drug abuse and the Elderly

Whether or not they were flower children of the 60’s or beatniks of the 1950’s, a huge number of baby boomers who have achieved their retirement dreams.   However, a growing number of these senior citizens are practicing alcoholics and drug addicts.   Many of them lived through a drug exploration period in the 60’s, but the common addiction now in their senior years is to prescription drugs.   According to the Data Spotlight (January 12, 2012 edition), the number of seniors age 50 or more needing treatment for addiction is expected to double by the year 2020.

The Burden Felt By Children
Unfortunately, the children of these aging baby boomers may not be aware Mom or Dad have a prescription drug problem.   Most children are aware when their parents have a history (whether it be current or in the past) of alcoholism, but most are blindly unaware that their father or mother are becoming addicted to hydrocodone (the active ingredient in Vicodin).  Often, it is not until the children start to take over handling their parents’ affairs that they realize what is truly happening.  It might be a case of an unpaid utility or credit card bill or it may be the stack of prescription receipts.  Something will trigger an alarm in their minds and the pieces will start to fall into place.   This may be why Mom falls asleep while you are visiting, or it might be why she is reluctant to go out, or it might explain other bizarre behaviors or conversations.

As our bodies age, the degree of arthritis and other aches and pains increase.  An increased number of physicians and hospitals are unwittingly providing an addictive amount of narcotic prescription drugs to the elderly to control their symptoms.  In some instances, the physician is willing to mail the monthly prescription to the individual or possibly to the pharmacy so the patient does not need to be seen in the office.

In addition, our parents are living in retirement homes with hundreds of other similarly aged individuals.   They each have a medicine cabinet full of prescription and over-the counter medications.   A lot of prescription drug abuse is done by those who get their drugs from others who share them.   Dad may have little concern, or knowledge of how his Bystolic will affect Mom who takes Fentanyl for pain and vice versa.   They may  know the Fentanyl kills pain; they do not realize it is 100 times stronger than morphine.

This substance addiction can be exacerbated by changes in the individual’s aging metabolism.  Everyone knows that when you reach your 40’s your metabolism slows down, and it gets harder to lose weight.   What we are painfully unaware of, is that as the metabolism slows, so does our tolerance to handle prescription drugs.  The more medication or alcohol we consume, the more it affects our aging neurological system. Our body is not able to process the alcohol or medication at the same rate or as effectively as it did when we were 25.

The symptoms of prescription drug addiction in seniors are very similar to those seen in teenagers:
•    depression
•    problems with sleeping
•    mood swings
•    cognitive issues

They may fall more often, or become more irritable.  In extreme situations they may see multiple physicians, or fill prescriptions at a number of pharmacies.They may be inclined to switch physicians or pharmacies when either begins to question their need for continual or increased medications. Children need to be vigilant with their parents just as they are with teenagers, and seek medical advice for rehabilitation guidance.

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