Los Angeles, CA, United States (4E) – The number of senior citizens addicted to painkillers and anxiety medications in 2012 reached 336,000, nearly triple to the 132,000 of them a decade ago, according to a study on the impact of prescription drug problem among older Americans conducted by USA Today.
The finding published in USA Today Wednesday is based on survey data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
The data showed that about one in every four adults 50 and over use mostly opioids for joint pain and benzodiazepines for anxiety. Both can cause disorientation and affect balance increasing seniors’ risk of falling. A combination of the two drugs at high doses can depress respiratory function, which could be fatal for older people weakened by illness.
The increasing number of drug-dependent seniors was attributed to doctors prescribing the addictive drugs more than ever because they are treating more aging patients without proper training in addiction.
The study also used data collected from IMS Health, which tracks drug dispensing for the government. The data showed that 55 million opioid prescriptions were written last year for people 65 and above. The number marked a 20 percent increase over five years. The number of benzodiazepine prescriptions climbed 12 percent over that period to 28.4 million.
People 55 and older were found to build tolerance from the drugs and get addicted to them leading to rising overdose deaths, emergency room visits and admissions to addiction treatment programs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded 9.4 fatalities per 100,000 people from 1999-2010. CDC data from 2010 show that 75 percent of pharmaceutical overdose deaths involved opioid painkillers and nearly a third of those cases also involved benzodiazepines.
Annual emergency room visits by people 65 and over for misuse of pharmaceuticals climbed more than 50 percent to more than 94,000 a year from 2007 to 2011.
The number of people 55 and older seeking substance abuse treatment from 2007 to 2011 jumped 46 percent jump in cases involving prescription narcotics, SAMHSA data showed.
David Oslin, an addiction specialist and psychiatry professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, said the problem poses the bigger challenge of weaning elderly patients, who were put on the drugs years ago.
“It’s really hard to get them off,” Oslin says, according to USA Today. “And there’s a stigma — people don’t want to take away a 70-year-old’s medications.”
The USA Today cited one case of a 68-year-old woman who successfully underwent treatment from prescription painkillers addiction. Betty Van Amburgh, who began treatment last year, was using transdermal patches laced with fentanyl, a narcotic up to 100 times stronger than morphine; hydrocodone, another powerful opioid; and Xanax, an addictive sedative. The drugs, which were for her back pain, were prescribed by general practitioners, orthopedists, pain specialists over two decades. The doctors changed a narcotic and adjust a dosage but did not told her to cut back, she claimed.
“The doctors just kept prescribing them. It was always, ‘Do you have pain? Let me give you a prescription. …’ But I got addicted. I was a zombie,” Amburgh told USA Today.
Amburgh now has less back pain after leaving the the Las Vegas Recovery Center.
Addiction treatment programs usually combine medication and psychological counseling. Seniors addicted to painkillers can try the Start Fresh Program of rehab company BioCorRx Inc. (OTCQB: BICX). The months-long program is unique since the medication is an abdominal implant that automatically delivers the right dose of opioid antagonist naltrexone to the patient on schedule.
Naltrexone has long been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of opioid and alcohol dependence. It blocks the part of the brain that feels euphoria or pleasure in the intake of addictive substances.
During the medication, a Start Fresh Program patient also undergoes life coaching sessions.
The USA Today study cited studies that project the number of seniors misusing pharmaceuticals will continue to grow as more Baby Boomers age and the medicate-first approach many doctors take in treating them. This makes addiction treatment program crucial in addressing the problem.