WASHINGTON, D.C. — The focus of the opioid crisis in the U.S. is on younger victims. But, according to senior advocate Dan Weber, “The substance abuse epidemic is having a growing impact on older Americans, the fastest growing segment of the population.”

The president of the Association of Mature American Citizens [AMAC] says that there is substantial research showing that addiction to alcohol and prescription and illicit among senior citizens has gone unnoticed for too long.

Weber called a report by the Inspector General at the Health and Human Services Department published in 2017 a wakeup call. The report revealed that

“in 2016, one out of every three beneficiaries received a prescription opioid through Medicare Part D. Half a million of them received high amounts of opioids — an average daily MED of 120 mg for at least 3 months of the year. Even more concerning, almost 90,000 beneficiaries are at serious risk of misuse or overdose. These include beneficiaries who received extreme amounts of opioids — more than two and a half times the level that CDC recommends avoiding — for the entire year. They also include beneficiaries who appeared to be doctor shopping (i.e., received high amounts of opioids and had multiple prescribers and pharmacies).”

The AMAC chief called opioid abuse among elderly users “a crisis within a crisis” that needs immediate attention. “Physicians need to take the lead and begin offering counseling to older patients at risk of addiction. They also need to offer to prescribe opioid alternatives when treating patients suffering from chronic pain.”

Here’s the way it works. Chronic pain is widespread among the country’s 50-plus population and one of the easiest and most effective ways of treating pain can involve the use of opioids. The danger is in the fact that legitimately prescribed opioid pain killers can become addictive and, ultimately, can lead to transitioning to illicit drugs.

And, Weber points out, that the result is that seniors are not only the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, they are also one of the fastest growing populations with diagnosed opioid use disorders.

Pharmacist Kathleen Cameron is also Senior Director of the National Council on Aging. In a recent article published on the PainAgainstPain Web site she reported that a survey of 200 organizations serving seniors “found that 81% of those organizations agree their clients have little knowledge of safe and affordable alternatives to opioids. NCOA research also uncovered that while 70% of these organizations have had to increase their efforts to address the opioid epidemic, less than 28% routinely screen vulnerable aging clients for opioid abuse or dependency. NCOA believes resources need to be invested in educating our aging population and those who serve older adults, in order to reach those at-risk before they become dependent on opioids.”

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