Seniors at Potentially High Risk for Prescription Pill Abuse

Older adults and prescription pill abuse

When we think of drug addicts, we all have a different vision of what that is, but most people would agree that an elderly American is not what we usually think. The United States has been in the midst of a prescription pill addiction epidemic for several years now, building momentum until it reached fever pitch in 2015. Although people have been watching and studying this epidemic for a while now, it has only recently come to light that prescription drug abuse has become more common in the unlikeliest of places – among baby boomers, Americans who are over the age of 50-years-old.

The baby boomer demographic previously accounted for much of the alcohol abuse in the U.S., but it appears that addiction in this group is now leaning toward prescription pills, and it is not yet clear why. Some critics believe that this issue can be traced back to overzealous doctors who over prescribe opioid painkillers for aches that do not require powerful narcotic painkillers. As baby boomers age, they experience the typical pains and aches that come along with aging, and many doctors in the U.S. are prescribing strong painkillers for these routine discomforts.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reveal that millions of senior citizens in the U.S. are taking addictive prescription drugs non-medically, meaning without need, most likely to satisfy an addiction. A look at the CMS data paints a disappointing picture, one that shows that Medicare Part D prescription drugs, funded by taxpayers, include barbiturates and benzodiazepines, which the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) explicitly warns that you should not give it to people who are 65-years-old or older. Both of these drugs are also on the Beers List, which is a catalog of drugs that seniors should not consume because of their heightened risk to become addicted, and experience other side effects.

Although the AGS strongly advises against prescribing benzos to elderly people, a recent study found that nearly 9 percent of 65 to 80-year-olds in the U.S. use these sedatives, with use exceptionally high in older women. The largest concentration of elderly people abusing prescription pills is located in the southeastern United States, particularly West Virginia, Tennessee, and Florida, which have the most seniors taking Xanax and Valium in the entire country. The 12 states in the country with the highest rate of senior prescriptions of Beers List drugs to the elderly were all southern states. West Virginia, Kentucky, and Louisiana have the highest rates of barbiturate prescriptions for people who are 65-years-old and older.

Aging and elderly people are just as susceptible to prescription drug abuse as the rest of the U.S. population, and arguably are even more at risk. It is important for people of all ages to be careful with powerful prescription drugs, and to also seek help if the unthinkable occurs.