By David Joel Miller.
One disease has resulted in an 11 fold increase in accidental deaths among seniors.
When we think of the illnesses plaguing seniors we tend to think of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, diseases that have long been associated with the process of growing old. As the population of the elderly, and almost-elderly, has risen, one disease has taken off in unprecedented numbers.
Drug use and abuse among seniors is out of control.
Past generations left drug use and abuse to the young people. As people aged across the lifespan they tended to give up bad habits and settle down to more responsible lives. The current generation of aged has pioneered a new trend in this as in so many other areas. Seniors are abusing more drugs and dying as a result of that abuse at alarming rates. This is a trend that is not likely to abate any time soon.
Seniors deaths from accidental drug overdoses are rising rapidly.
Government statistics report large and rising rates of drug use among seniors. The “baby boomer” – “old hippy” age group has held onto their drugs of choice while adding to the drugs they use. Large studies take time to complete but the more seniors enter the statistics the more startling the trend becomes. Some of these drug related deaths are obvious, some are more hidden.
Being an almost-senior puts you at risk also.
CDC reported recently that 12,000 baby boomers in the age range 45 to 64 died in one year (2013) from accidental drug overdoses. That is more than the total number of deaths from car accidents, influenza and pneumonia combined.
Seniors have held onto their drug of choice longer than past generations.
Many baby boomers have held onto their drug of choice as they aged. Up to 50% of all hospital emergency room admissions of senior citizens is the result of an overdose of drugs and or alcohol. In the year 2015 seniors age 60 to 65 are three times more likely to be using illicit drugs that those who were in that age group in the year 2000. Old hippies are still getting high, sometimes with life threatening consequences.
Prescription drug deaths predominate.
Just because the drug comes from the doctor or pharmacy does not make it safe. More and more drug abusers, particularly seniors, are moving from questionable street drugs to prescription medications as their drug of choice.
Two groups of drugs account for the bulk of these drug overdoses, painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs. Overdoses can be the result of people taking the medication and then before that med has time to act taking more. Certainly confusion and forgetting what was taken can play a role. Still the overwhelming conclusion is that many of these drug overdoses deaths in seniors are the result of intentional abuse rather than accidental overdose. Recreational use of these drugs by seniors is the dominant problem.
Some of these overdose deaths come from the cumulative effects of multiple drugs take together. One study found that among seniors, those taking eight or more prescribed medications had a 100% chance that two of them were interacting and causing an unintended result. It is recommended that anyone taking medications carry a list of those medications with them and let their treating professions see what they are taking. It also helps to get all your prescriptions filled at one pharmacy. That list should include over the counter and street drugs also. Your doctor and pharmacist needs to know about all the drugs you take.
Sometimes suicide is the reason for senior drug overdose deaths.
It seems possible that some of these reported “accidental” drug overdoses are in fact deliberate. We know that older people have increased rates of suicide attempts. The older a person gets the more the chances that they will attempt suicide. Before we alibi this as somehow related to incurable diseases or right to die issues, we need to also consider the way in which seniors are routinely hidden away and marginalized. Society’s discard of the elderly has resulted in a great national resource that is being wasted as the elderly have progressively less of a role in society.
Accepting high rates of addiction, alcoholism and suicide among the elderly as inevitable diminishes us all. Loss of hope fuels drug use as well as suicidal thinking at all ages and particularly so as the years add up.
For the record drugs as a way to end one’s life is neither a reliable or painless alternative in many cases.
Alcohol is the lubricant that facilities senior drug abuse.
A large proportion of drug overdoses at all ages are the direct result of having alcohol in the blood stream. One study reported that binge drinkers are fifty-five times more likely to attempt suicide. Many drug overdose deaths are facilitated by having alcohol in the blood stream.
V. A. reported that half of their hospital beds are attributable to alcohol related health problems. Among the seniors one drink per day may be way too much given the other medications and health related problems.
As we age the percentage of water in our bodies tends to decline. Less water results in a higher blood alcohol content. With age the blood flow through the liver declines. If you drink the same amount each day, at age 90 your blood alcohol will be 50% higher than it was at 20. The amount of alcohol that used to be tolerable now results in intoxication.
Alcohol abuse by seniors often goes unrecognized, the symptoms attributed to dementia. Alcohol abuse makes the symptoms of cognitive decline worse.
As little as one drink per day results in an 800% increase in the rate of serious falls.
Growing need for senior specific drug treatment.
There is a rapidly growing need for drug treatment for seniors. Treatment programs are having to modify themselves to meet this need. Seniors often abuse different drugs than younger people. They have been abusing drugs longer and have more health problems as a result. They have mobility issues, can’t get into bunk beds or may need the program to be wheelchair or handicap accessible.
Abuse of drugs and alcohol by seniors is not something we should accept. If you or someone you know has a problem with substances, please talk with your doctor or seek out professional help. Abusing substances reduces the quality of life at any age and the older we get the more that drug will steal away what is left of your life.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books