Senior Drug Abuse

Senior drug abuse ©

When you think of drug addiction, seniors are not the first age group that comes to mind. However, 40 percent of the prescription drugs sold in the United States are used by the elderly, often for problems such as chronic pain, insomnia and anxiety. According to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, as many as 17% of adults age 60 and over abuse prescription drugs. Narcotic pain killers, sleeping pills and tranquillizers are common medications of abuse

Recently an article came across my desk in the CSA (Certified Senior Advisor) Journal regarding drug abuse in seniors. It’s not a subject I would normally dwell on but that article took me back to when I had open heart surgery and the Dr. prescribed oxycontin for pain management. I had never taken it before or since so I didn’t have any experience to go on. Neither did I have any sympathy for, or understanding of drug abusers.

Ever since watching a couple drug addiction TV programs on “Dragnet” as a kid back in the 50’s starring Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday, I have been scared to death of anything involving addictive drugs

But I do remember being amazingly pain free after coming home from that surgery…….until the day after that oxycontin prescription ran out. All of a sudden I had a new understanding of those who abuse prescription drugs when I realized that I could make all that pain go away with one little pill. I still can’t understand people who abuse illicit drugs though.

A lot of seniors today take a dizzying number of prescription medications. In most cases, these drugs improve their lives by doing everything from lowering blood pressure to easing chronic pain. So how does a caregiver know when their loved one crosses that line? When does the medication use stop being medically necessary and transform into an addiction? Dr. Marvin Tark, a board certified anesthesiologist and pain management specialist, explains it like this: “When the person starts using the medication for non-intended purposes.”
Here are some signs to look for if you suspect your loved one is abusing or misusing their prescription medication:
Has their behavior or mood changed? Are they argumentative, sullen, withdrawn, secretive or anxious?
Are they giving excuses as to why they need their medication?
Do they ever express remorse or concern about taking their medicine?
Do they have a “purse or pocket supply” in case of emergency?
Have they ever been treated by a physician or hospital for substance abuse?
Have they recently changed doctors or drug stores?
Have they received the same prescription from two or more physicians or pharmacists at approximately the same time?
Do they become annoyed or uncomfortable when others talk about their use of medications?
Do they ever sneak or hide their meds?
Most of us seniors know that modern drugs can be wonderful for improving the quality of life as we age and invariably develop age-related health issues. But there is a double edge to this modern day pharmaceutical sword……one that ushers in the dark side of life-destroying addiction. Be on the lookout for the above signs in the lives of seniors in your circle of life and get them the help they need sooner rather than later.
Thanks for reading All About Seniors…..see you next week!
Information for today’s column was drawn from the websites of The American Osteopathic Association and

Bill Milby, CSA, is a Certified Senior Advisor and a Director of Visiting Angels® of Macon, a non-medical, living assistance service for seniors. If you have questions or comments about this column you can reach him at or13731925_1137010803038372_1530284634560879104_o.jpg

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