Is Prescription Drug Abuse Really a “Thing” For People Over 50?
When most people think of drug abuse, they likely picture the abuse of illegal substances, by a person in their 20s and 30s. However, statistics indicate that prescription drug abuse is a growing problem throughout the United States. This is especially true in individuals over the age of 50. At the current time, an estimated 17% of individuals over the age of 50 are addicted to prescription medications.
Researchers estimate that at least 10 million people over the age of 50 will be addicted to prescription drugs by the year 2020 unless a major shift in this trend is seen. What constitutes the abuse of prescription medications? Why is this problem becoming so widespread in the United States? What efforts are being made to turn around this devastating trend? The information below will address these important questions.
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What is Prescription Drug Abuse?
Put in simple terms, the abuse of prescription drugs involves the misuse of a medication that was prescribed for an individual for the treatment of a legitimate health issue. This could refer to prescription pain medications, anti-depressant drugs, or other drugs. There are many reasons a person may become dependent on prescription medications, but most people doing so don’t even realize they have a problem. They are simply attempting to treat a disease or health issue that is negatively impacting their life.
Why is the Abuse of Prescription Drugs a Growing Problem?
The abuse of prescription drugs is a complex problem because it has many different causes. Since the majority of those affected are only trying to improve a health problem that is impacting their life, they don’t notice that a problem is developing. Below are some of the main causes of this complex issue.
Poly-pharmacy refers to cases where individuals are prescribed many different medications by different doctors. These doctors may not even speak to each other about the way that these drugs can interact with one another. Many types of prescription medications can have a synergistic effect, therefore making the effects of other drugs taken at the same time even stronger. It is imperative that a person taking multiple medications from different sources understands this concept and ensure that all physicians and pharmacists know all medications being taken.
Synergistic Effects of Alcohol
Since many people also use alcohol to relax or to deaden pain, this can make the problem worse. Alcohol interacts with many prescription medications, resulting in potentially devastating consequences. Ideally, physicians should work together closely when treating an individual. This way they can ensure that any medications prescribed will not cause further harm to the person being treated.
What Steps are Being Taken to Reverse this Trend?
How are medical professionals addressing the problem of the misuse of prescription drugs? One way some are attempting to reduce the risk of this problem is by limiting access to certain medications. For example, some pharmacies will now only dispense a seven day supply of certain medications at a time. Some pharmacists are also required to discuss the risk of addiction with those who are picking up their medications. They may also go over correct ways to store the medications so that they are protected from misuse, as well as proper ways to dispose of unused drugs.
Signs of the Abuse of Prescription Drugs
It can be difficult to tell when someone you love has a problem with the misuse of prescription medications. It is something that often goes unnoticed, even by the individual who is misusing the medication. Some possible indications of a problem are listed below, but it is important to note that a problem can exist without these signs.
- Withdrawal from usual activities
- Tiredness or forgetfulness
- Poor concentration
- Consistently running out of medications before time to refill them
- Anxiety, depression, or unstable moods
Why Abusing Prescription Drugs is Common Among Older People
Recent statistics show an increase in the number of Americans over the age of 50 that are addicted to prescription medications. What are some of the reasons for this growing trend? The following factors are believed to play a role in this common occurrence.
Drug abuse is harder to detect in this population.
Many of the symptoms created by the abuse of medications overlap with normal signs of aging, making them hard to detect in older people. For example, forgetfulness could be a sign of drug abuse, but it can also be a normal occurrence as a person gets older. It can be difficult to discern the true cause of the symptom.
Individuals over the age of 50 have more health issues.
People fitting this demographic have more health issues and more everyday or long-term aches and pains. This results in a larger number of them being prescribed pain-relieving medications in the first place. Older individuals also frequently have more than one doctor, and these medical professionals may not be in contact with one another. Since certain medications can interact with other drugs, making their effects stronger, this can be a real issue.
Medical professionals don’t think older people will become addicted.
Many professionals don’t consider the older population of people at high risk of becoming addicted to prescription drugs. Therefore, they are not likely to be educated about the dangers of obtaining prescriptions from multiple doctors or combining medications and alcohol.
Drug abuse isn’t reserved only for illicit or illegal substances. In fact, it is easier than most people believe to become dependent on prescription medications. This has resulted in a trend that shows a steady increase in the number of Americans affected by prescription drug abuse, especially those over the age of 50. Through a proper educational program and successful drug treatment programs, we can begin to see a reversal of this damaging trend.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/misuse-prescription-drugs/overview
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/prescription-medicines
- MedlinePlus: https://medlineplus.gov/prescriptiondrugmisuse.html
- National Library of Medicine: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16563663/
- MedlinePlus: https://medlineplus.gov/painrelievers.html
- MedicineNet: https://www.medicinenet.com/antidepressants/article.htm
- US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5635569/
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/harmful-interactions-mixing-alcohol-with-medicines
- TeensHealth: https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/prescription-drug-abuse.html
- National Institute of Mental Health: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/