Opioid epidemic hits our aging population hard

With the blink of an eye, the quiet opioid epidemic has made its way into the lives of our senior population and, according to statistics, we have a major crisis on our hands.  As you may recall in a previous blog post, we wrote about prescription drug abuse of our senior citizens as one of the fastest growing health problems in the United States in a previous blog post, but sadly, it appears the nationwide problem continues to get worse.  

In a recent article in the Tennessean, pain pills have made their way across the state of Tennessee and appear to be hitting our elders with vengeance.  Hospitalizations alone, due to painkillers of those 65 plus, have tripled over the last decade.  Dr Peter Martin of Vanderbilt Addiction Center said in the past, nobody expected an elderly person to become an addict. 

Even physicians give senior citizens who come back for prescriptions the benefit of the doubt.  Most of the time, a doctor typically doesn't have suspicions of an older person abusing medications like they would toward a younger person.

According to a US News article,  this problem didn't just raise its ugly head.  The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported hospitalizations for opioid use increased most sharply among Americans ages 45-85, with rates rising five fold between 1993 and 2012.  To add to those concerns, Dr. Andrew Kolodny, executive director of the Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing said, “We see the highest rates of overdose deaths in individuals who appear to be receiving legitimate prescriptions for chronic pain problems.” Recent Tennessee data shows this train continues to move down the track with no slowdown in sight.  The Center for Foundations Recovery Network, a nationwide network of treatment facilities for mental health and addiction, report a 55 percent increase in calls from people 65 plus seeking treatment between January 2015 and January 2017. 

Moving forward, with this drug epidemic reaching uncontrollable heights across the United States, we have to team up with law enforcement and legislative leaders to implement regulations and policy decisions to put the brakes on this run-a-way train.  It will take a collective effort by state legislators, providers, insurance companies, policy makers, and patients.  By simply educating patients and providers about the risks involved with chronic pain medications for our senior population, should go a long way in helping curb prescription opioid abuse.

We applaud Tennessee Speaker Beth Harrell for forming the Tennessee task force to fight the opioid and painkiller abuse crisis in January, and most recently, Alabama Governor, Kay Ivey for establishing the Alabama Opioid Overdose and Addiction Council.  We look forward to working with Speaker Harrell and Governor Ivey as they continue their efforts to aggressively to meet this crisis head on and combat this dreadful problem for our seniors.


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