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Geriatric Opioid Use: The Silent Addiction Problem

Maureen Meehan

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OxyContin, narcotics, painkillers

Senior citizens have an opioid addiction problem and, like any other, it’s not a pretty sight.

According to a report from the Office of Inspector General, 30 percent of our country’s 55 million Medicare patients are taking at least one commonly abused opioid.

The report found an “astounding” number of opioids prescribed to the elderly.

Micah Sobota, a clinical pharmacist at Coleman Behavioral Health in Ohio, is one of many clinicians wrestling with opioid-related challenges in seniors.

Whether it’s aging physiology that renders them more sensitive to the medications, or outright dependence, these patients present unique management challenges, said Sobota at the annual meeting of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists (ASCP).

How did this happen?

Dr. Courtney Wilson, interviewed in Pain Medicine News, said many of her patients started taking opioids a decade or more ago when there were fewer concerns about addiction. Where she practices in Asheville, North Carolina, nearly 58 percent of the 709 patients on long-term opioids are aged 60 years or older.

It is difficult to wean patients off high doses of opioids and other controlled substances, Wilson said, because the body’s ability to clear these drugs is hampered as kidney or liver function declines in the later years.

“The risk of respiratory depression goes up as well, just because your lung function isn’t what it used to be,” she said.

And then there’s chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sleep apnea or other respiratory conditions—all of which tend to be more common in older patients.

As younger adults who abuse opioids are more likely to turn to dealers for their supply, baby boomers and seniors are more prone to rely on their doctors who obviously comply with prescriptions.

The leading opioids taken by Medicare patients are OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, Fentanyl or their generic equivalents, said Miriam Anderson who led the government study.

“In fact, there were about 40 million prescriptions for these drugs last year,” said Anderson. “That’s enough to give one to every Medicare beneficiary in the country.”

What’s to be done about this dangerous problem facing our senior citizens?

If you’re reading this article, you probably know the answer. Seniors need more information about medical marijuana. So, let’s provide it:

Tell your parents, grandparents and friends (or let them read this), that MMJ is safer than most commonly prescribed medications and that side effects are insignificant compared to prescription drugs.

They need to know pot is not addictive and has effective healing properties for many conditions such as inflamed joints, high blood pressure, chronic pain, digestive disorders, constipation, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, cognitive awareness and more.

Seniors who might be reluctant to get high need to know about CBD, cannabidiol, which also reduces inflammation, eases pain, stimulates bone growth, help heal fractures, suppresses muscular spasms, reduces anxiety, arthritis pain, nausea and muscle spasms—all with very little to no psychoactive effect.

Aging adults should realize that smoking is not the only way to ingest cannabis, like it was back in their day and that cannabis-infused ointments can be very effective in alleviating arthritis and neuropathy pain.

It’s always worth pointing out that not only is there no documentation that shows weed reduces or damages brain cells, studies with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients indicate that marijuana gradually encourages new neural pathways, allowing those with impaired brain function to potentially stop further degeneration and even encourage brain function.

Then, of course, there are the munchies that will inevitably help with one of the most dangerous health risks among senior citizens—loss of appetite, leading to weight loss.

So, waste no time in letting your elderly family and friends know that there is a viable, healthy and effective alternative to opioids and other prescription drugs.

You can keep up with all of HIGH TIMES’ marijuana news right here.

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