Many families with elderly loved ones in nursing homes in Oceanside know about the risks of overmedication, particularly in dementia patients. For example, an article in U.S. News & World Report discussed the continuing epidemic of overmedicating dementia patients with antipsychotic drugs, reporting that more than 179,000 patients receive drugs every week that are “not appropriate for their condition.” Many of these medications are prescribed because of their “sedating side effects,” used to keep seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia “easier for overworked nursing home staff,” according to the article. Yet it is not antipsychotic drugs that are on the minds of many Americans who are concerned about overmedication or misuses of prescription drugs. This category has become reserved for opioids and news of preventable overdoses. What role do opioids play in the nursing home setting?
According to a recent report in the Washington Post, seniors are also grappling with the opioid epidemic, and many older adults are at risk of serious injury as a result of using these drugs.
Opioid Abuse on the Rise Among Older Adults
As the report highlights, opioid abuse generally declined among younger users between the years 2002 and 2014, but during that same period of time, usage among those over the age of 50 “almost doubled.” In response to new information about opioid abuse among the country’s most vulnerable age group, the Senate Special Committee on Aging met to address the issue. According to one of the members of the committee, “older Americans are among those unseen in this epidemic,” and if we are to stop the abuse of opioids, we need to raise public awareness about how these drugs affect the elderly.
Specifically, during 2016, “one in three people with a Medicare prescription drug plan received an opioid prescription.” For members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, this information makes clear that “baby boomers and our oldest generate [are] at great risk.” One of the most pressing issues is that “Medicare compounds the epidemic by funding needed opioids that can be abused, but, generally, not funding the care and medicines needed to fight opioid addiction.” More than 30% of seniors currently have a prescription for an opioid painkiller. Advocates believe that about 20% of that population is at risk for serious “opioid misuse or overdose.”
Seniors Experience More Physical Pain
Why are more seniors turning to opioid painkillers? In short, older adults tend to experience pain at higher rates than those in younger age groups. In addition, more seniors suffer from sleep disorders, including insomnia, as well as anxiety. These latter conditions often result in doctors prescribing benzodiazepines to older adults, which can be used to treat both sleep disorders and anxiety. Opioid painkillers often are prescribed in conjunction with benzodiazepines, and the combination can be deadly.
While many seniors take opioids to manage pain from falls and other physical injuries, research also points toward the fact that the use of opioids can make a senior more likely to suffer a fall. As such, a “vicious cycle” can begin in which “taking opioids can lead to falls, falls can lead to pain, pain can lead to opioids, and opioids can be abused.” It is important for healthcare providers to recognize the signs of addiction and to distinguish it from dementia and other health concerns.
Contact an Oceanside Nursing Home Abuse Attorney
If you have concerns about the medications your family member is taking in a nursing home or fear that an elderly loved one has been the victim of abuse, you should speak with an Oceanside nursing home abuse attorney about your case. Contact the Walton Law Firm for more information.
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