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Seniors and Rx Med Abuse

While you may not think of the elderly as a high risk group for drug abuse, the fact is that abuse of prescription drugs is on the rise for adults older than age 65. Part of the reason? This group takes more prescription medications than any other age group in the United States. And according to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, one in eight Americans who seeks treatment for drug abuse is older than age 50.

Medications at Risk for Abuse

Take note if your older family member takes any medications in two categories that have high potential for abuse. The first category, opioids, includes pain medications like oxycodone (OxyContin), oxycodone combined with acetaminophen (Percocet), and hydrocodone combined with acetaminophen (Vicodin). The second category, benzodiazepines are used to treat anxiety, panic attacks, or insomnia. Examples include diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), and lorazepam (Ativan). People who take drugs in either category long term are in danger of becoming addicted.

Is Your Loved on at Risk?

For seniors, prescription drug abuse can either be unintentional or intentional. Unintentional abuse is when drugs are taken incorrectly by mistake. This usually occurs when an older adult has trouble remembering if they’ve taken their medication or has difficulty reading the label. Intentional abuse, however, occurs when a person knowingly takes drugs incorrectly to escape from their problems or to feel a sense of euphoria. This is common among seniors who have recently lost a loved one, are in failing health, or have recently had a big life change like retirement or selling a family home. If your loved one is showing signs of depression, anxiety, loneliness, or boredom, he or she is also at risk.

Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse Among Seniors

As a caregiver, it can be difficult to distinguish signs of prescription drug abuse from normal signs of aging. Common symptoms include sleep disturbances, memory loss, mood swings, withdrawal from hobbies or social activities, frequent accidents or falls, chronic health problems, and slurred speech. In addition, be aware of whether your loved one fills a prescription from more than one doctor or at more than one pharmacy; takes the medication more often than directed; sneaks or hides medication; becomes uncomfortable or refuses to talk about the medication; or has behavior changes, such as becoming irritable or withdrawn.

Steps to Take

Because many seniors are not in optimal health, prescription drug abuse is especially dangerous for this age group. If you suspect an older family member has a problem with prescription drugs, talk with his or her doctor. For most people, inpatient treatment is the best way to overcome the addiction and maintain health and well-being, both physically and mentally. Intensive therapy and treatment is often necessary to break an addiction for the long term.

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