Prescription drug addiction has been the focus of much attention in recent years. However, the face of the problem may soon look different. That’s because, according to a CBS report, older Americans are the largest consumers of prescription drugs and they are fast becoming the largest population of those addicted to them as well.
According to data compiled by researchers at USA Today, about 336,000 senior Americans either misused or were dependent on prescription drugs in 2012. That figure was 132,000 just a dozen years ago. In short, the number of seniors addicted to their prescriptions has almost tripled.
Older Americans seem to have the hardest time with medications prescribed to handle depression or chronic pain. This is perhaps because increasing age brings increasing physical pains. Depression, too, is a common complaint among older populations. Opioid painkillers like Percocet and Vicodin and anti-anxiety medications such as Valium and Xanax top the list of problem drugs for seniors.
According to USA Today’s research:
- 55 million prescriptions for opioids are written for people over age 65 each year
- 28.4 million prescriptions for anti-anxiety drugs (benzodiazepines) are written for those above age 65
- One quarter of all Americans over age 50 are taking either an opioid or anti-anxiety medication
- Emergency room visits connected to medication misuse among seniors is 94,000 per year
- Emergency room visits among those over 65 is up more than 50 percent
Side Effects and Prescription-Drug Dependency in Older People
Although older Americans are prescribed more drugs than any other age group, they are also the most vulnerable to the drugs’ side effects. Older bodies do not metabolize the medications as quickly as younger bodies. In addition, many seniors are taking multiple medications to deal with multiple issues.
They are also at greater risk for developing a dependency. This is largely because doctors prescribe them medications (to ease joint pain or relieve depression) but then never take them off the drugs. Like younger people, the elderly can develop a tolerance for drugs, which means they need ever-increasing amounts in order to get relief.
These drugs, while effective for providing short-term relief, are not nearly as effective when used long-term. Most experts feel that the problem is largely one of overprescribing by doctors. Yet, physicians continue to prescribe more and more of these medications to seniors each year.