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The Growing Problem of Drug Abuse by Seniors

Posted  September 18, 2014

By Jason Enzler

Drug abuse and misuse by the older generation is on the rise, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. And the forecast predicts things may get worse.

The problem appears to be two-fold: addiction and misuse. On the addiction side, experts are concerned that seniors are receiving powerful opiates and anti-anxiety medications without adequate monitoring to identify when patients become addicted. Moreover, some seniors at risk for addiction are nonetheless receiving these prescriptions due to insufficient screening by physicians or other medical personnel. Equally disturbing is the sometimes overlapping problem of misuse, with seniors taking medications that have stopped working, do not have the intended effect, are prescribed in overly powerful dosages, or are interacting negatively with other drugs.

And with the baby-boom generation growing older, statistics indicate the problems will grow:

  • Between 2004 and 2008, prescription drug misuse resulted in a 121% increase in ER visits.
  • The number of seniors misusing prescription drugs is expected to triple by 2020 (2.7 million) as compared to 2001 (911,000).
  • But it is not just a function of more seniors, more problems: the percentage of seniors misusing drugs is also expected to rise 100% in that time frame.

It is not too late, however, to change this trend. Geriatric experts are increasingly sounding the alarm, speaking at conferences and giving seminars for the healthcare industry. The Beers Criteria, guidance issued by the American Geriatrics Society, is being updated to better identify drugs that may be inappropriate for seniors. Studies are underway to understand how to identify and prevent situations where patients are misusing drugs, such as taking medications that are ineffective or have stopped being effective. Whether these efforts will be enough and be in time remains to be seen, but at least we appear to be taking a step in the right direction.

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