Elders & Opioids: The Risks and Data You Should Know

For years the news of opioid abuse has been sweeping across the country. Towns and cities have seen the tragic effects of the opioid crisis and many are calling for solutions. Risks and issues that come with surgical procedures are usually discussed, but often, the risks associated with the pain medication after surgery is not. The result is often a reliance on these drugs that is hard to break – and opioids don’t discriminate. Opioid addiction can affect any age group, people of all races, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds, but among the elderly, opioids pose a unique threat as they age and become more vulnerable to neglect. 

To protect yourself and your loved ones, here are some of the key risks and data you should know.

The Opioid Problem

According to this study by the Administration for Community Living, older adults are among the most likely to not only need opioids, but to use them long term and for more than just pain management. The CDC found that the “rate of opioid analgesic use in the past 30 days” for Americans 60 years and older was at 7.9 percent compared to the rate of 4.7 percent for Americans between the ages of 20 and 39. Additionally, a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey that studies the years 1999 – 2014 found that those aged 65 and over made up 25.4 percent of long term opioid users. 

These numbers may look small in the grand scheme of the opioid crisis, but older Americans are subject to greater health risks in general, which are exacerbated by unaddressed opioid use. Because older adults are more likely to experience chronic pain, need more medical procedures, and suffer from higher rates of depression and anxiety as they age and experience lifestyle changes, they become a target for prescription opioid use. And because aging typically results in a “reduced metabolism, excretion, and physical reserve,” older adults are affected more by the use of strong drugs like opioids and are more likely to experience serious side effects. Among these side effects are “nausea and constipation, urine retention, central nervous system effects (sedation, mild cognitive impairment, respiratory depression), increased sensitivity to pain, as well as cardiovascular and endocrine system” side effects. 

Older adults who use opioids long term can become reliant on them, developing what is known as opioid use disorder. Opioid use disorder can lead to increased hospital trips and stays, higher rates of death, impaired vision, increased risk of falls, and respiratory depression.

Why This Matters

Put simply, this matters because older adults who live in care facilities and nursing homes may be given these drugs to manage their pain after surgeries, while the side effects and risks are ignored. Patients in memory care units who cannot speak for themselves, may be subject to opioid use without knowing or fully understanding the risks and their health issues could increase as a result. Reliance on these opioids and their long-term use is often because they are the go-to, easy solution for pain management and other, safer and less addictive alternatives are not considered. 

What You Can Do

We recommend you do your research to see if there are alternative pain management options for you and your loved one. Pay attention to and ask questions about medications being prescribed to you and loved ones. Ask if medications are addictive, what side effects you should know about, and if there is a plan for eventually weaning off of stronger medicines. Closely monitor your loved one’s medicine schedule, advocate for opioid alternatives, and attend doctors appointments with them whenever possible. 

For more information on addiction treatment, visit addicted.org

If you or a loved one have been a victim of abuse or neglect, contact Gharibian Law (877-875-1119) today for a free consultation and the best legal representation.