The opioid crisis often receives attention for what is happening within the young adult population, but what about senior citizens? According to a recent article in Psychology Today, one in three older adults visiting a hospital for non-surgical conditions were prescribed an opioid. So the use of opioids is high among seniors, but what about misuse?
According to Psychology Today:
Older adults are one of the largest demographic of Americans prescribed opioids for pain management. Approximately 50% of older adults experience daily pain and it is estimated that 10 million seniors fill at least one opioid prescription a year. A recent study found that a nearly nine-fold increase in opioid prescriptions from office-based medical visits by older adults occurred between 1995 and 2010.
Other research tracking prescribing in hospitals noted that one-third of older adults hospitalized for non-surgical conditions were prescribed opioids, suggesting that these medications were being prescribed to older adults who may not need them.
Even more concerning is that, compared to the community setting, opioid use may be even higher in nursing homes, with one study finding one in seven nursing home residents receive long-term opioid prescriptions.
Older adults and nonmedical opioid use
These dramatic increases in medical opioid use have been paralleled by rises in nonmedical use (also called misuse). Nonmedical use is defined as taking a prescription opioid that was not prescribed to the user or in ways the prescriber did not intend (e.g., using in higher doses, improper ingestion method). Opioids can cause euphoria, mood elevation, pain relief, and extreme relaxation, making them prone to misuse.
Nonmedical use of opioids among older adults has been steadily rising for approximately two decades. A recent federal report showed that opioid misuse among older adults has nearly doubled since 2002. Even heroin has become a concern, with one study noting significant increases in the number of older adults seeking treatment for heroin addiction.
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