What To Do If Someone You Love Is Abusing Opioids

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Opioid abuse and addiction has been on the rise in recent years and people of all ages and walks of life are being affected. Deaths from overdoses related to opioids have more than quadrupled since 1999 and the majority of these overdoses are tied to prescription painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone – not from heroin or other “street drugs”.

However, those at risk for opioid abuse or overdose might not always be who you would expect. Much attention has been paid to young-adults and middle-age individuals who use opioids, but there is evidence that the issue is also taking a severe toll on older individuals.

In fact, overdoses related to painkillers have gone up eleven-fold in people over the age of 50 since 1999. In some areas, that rate is considerably higher.

There is also evidence that older individuals are more at risk to the dangers of opioid abuse compared to younger people.

Research from the National Safety Council says that adults over 65 who take opioids are 68% more likely to be hospitalized and 87% more likely to die than others their age who use over-the-counter medications to combat pain.

To help fight the epidemic of opioid abuse in aging people, the American Association of Retired Persons has published a list of suggestions you can use if you believe someone you love is struggling with opioid use:

Be aware. Does addiction run in the family? Did Mom use drugs as a teen or young adult? How many doctors does she see? What are their names and locations? What health conditions is she being treated for? Where does she fill her prescriptions? Are the labels on her prescription medication bottles from more than one pharmacy?

Observe. When Dad doesn’t use pills, does his behavior improve? How many pills is he taking? Do you see any signs of addiction such as losing interest in some of the things that used to bring him joy, not managing at home or work, or giving up important activities? Does he seem out of character — more depressed, anxious, withdrawn or secretive? Does he need to take a substance in larger amounts or for longer than he’s meant to?

Monitor. If I’m not around, who can I get to monitor Grandma’s behavior? How often does she go to the doctor? How much does she drink? Does she forget that she took her medication in the morning and then take it again at night?

Record. List all medications and dosages, along with why they were prescribed. Search medicine cabinets for over-the-counter medications, herbs and supplements — everything from aspirin to calcium to ginkgo. Include alcohol and marijuana.

Ask. Casually ask your loved one questions about her drug use. How many pills is she taking? Is each of her doctors aware of what the others are prescribing? Has she been feeling OK? Does she notice a change in her behavior? Extend the conversation to others — neighbors, friends, spouses, relatives and caregivers, if appropriate.

Talk to docs. Attend doctors’ appointments with your loved one, and talk to the physicians about medications and health conditions. Make sure the information is entered into their computer system so it becomes a permanent piece of the electronic health record and accessible to other physicians. Opioids are powerful, and recovery rates, although improving, are not entirely promising. If there’s a concern, get help. Now.

Opioids do have their place in medicine. They can be a miracle for those who experience acute pain from an injury, surgery, or other ailment. However, their benefits must be weighed against their high risk for addiction and overdose. If you know anyone of any age who you are concerned may be abusing opioids, contact a medical professional or addiction specialist today.

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