In 2015, 19% of Drug Fatalities Were Over Age 55 – Signs of Opioid Addiction Hard To Detect In Older Adults

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In 2015, 19% of Drug Fatalities Were Over Age 55 – Signs of Opioid Addiction Hard To Detect In Older Adults

According to new data compiled by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, an estimated 19% of the 33,000 Americans who died from opioid-related overdoses in 2015 were over age 55. That means more than 6,200 Americans were likely parents of adult children or even grandparents.

These facts reveal that adult children can be in a very precarious position when it comes to addressing their parents’ addiction or abuse. Older adults are more likely to be prescribed painkillers and multiple medications. Also, signs of opioid addiction can be mistaken for other signs of aging, such as sleepiness or confusion.

Moreover, it may be more difficult to determine if an older adult is addicted because they are often prescribed and using drugs for legitimate reasons, such as after surgery or for cancer pain. Look for signs of opioid addiction, such as preoccupation with medication, running out of prescriptions too quickly, and unusual sedation.

Older adults often suffer from other health condition, and all of these factors can put persons their fifties and beyond at a heightened risk of an overdose. If you believe your parents or grandparents are addicted to painkillers, I would highly advise you or their spouse keep naloxone, the anti-opioid overdose drug, in a highly accessible location.

Please consider having a conversation with your loved one about their use of medication using an understanding and non-judgmental approach.

But this in of itself can be tricky, and parents can become very defensive and insist that children are interfering with their lives. Older patients are often wary of losing their medication, and they are afraid of being in pain. Moreover, they aren’t looking to get high – they just want their pain managed.

During the discussion, be specific and focus on what you have observed. For example, point out to your parent if they are running out of their medication or they often seem out of it. Encourage him or her to talk to a doctor and offer assistance. Worse case scenario, contact the doctor yourself.

Seeking Treatment

Addiction treatment for older people isn’t that much different than for younger people – it just may be more complicated due to the presence of multiple health issues and the need for corresponding medication.

In many cases, intensive inpatient treatment may be overkill for older adults. And outpatient treatment, used in conjunction with medications to prevent overdose and minimize cravings can be very effective.

And of course, these patients should also have access to alternative options for pain management, such as non-opioid pain relievers and physical therapy, etc.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology


Opioid Overdose Deaths by Age Group

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