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Shannon Moore
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Drug Misuse & Abuse Taking Toll on Seniors

Bayley Publication 1-July 17, 2018

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More than 80 percent of adults age 57 to 85 use at least one daily medication, and more than half take at least five medications or supplements daily, reports The National Institutes of Health (NIH). These older adults are more likely to use long-term prescriptions, use medication improperly, or use another’s medication to save money. All increase the risk of bad drug interactions.

These older adults are more likely to use long-term prescriptions, use medication improperly, or use another’s medication to save money. All increase the risk of bad drug interactions.

Older adults are in danger of misusing and abusing drugs, particularly by accident. Their bodies have trouble metabolizing drugs. Some medicines they use don't mix well with other prescribed medications, over-the-counter drugs and herbal remedies. And according to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), highly addictive drugs for anxiety, pain and insomnia often are prescribed for them.

Possible causes, likely symptoms

Life changes can lead to dependency on drugs (and even alcohol):
* Retirement, loss of income or financial strain
* Death of a spouse, family member, close friend or pet
* Loss of mobility, relocation or nursing home placement
* Family conflict
* Mental health decline such as depression, stress and memory loss
* Physical health decline due to major surgeries and pain

Unfortunately, symptoms of dependency often mimic those of actual diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, dementia or depression, or aging itself, the FDA advises.

Treatment and Prevention

Older adults don’t always realize the risks of drug interactions, may be reluctant to admit a problem or ask for help. If family and friends recognize what’s going on, they may not want to intervene – or believe seniors are less likely to benefit from treatment, or that it’s a waste of resources to try.

​A family member or friend may need to accompany a senior on doctor visits, organize the older adult's prescriptions and monitor his or her daily regimen. Abuse may require detoxification, counseling to change unhealthy thinking patterns, and medications to counter the effects of other drugs or relieve withdrawal symptoms – not to mention ongoing support to recover fully.

Prevention is key

Manufacturers can develop safe, effective and non-addicting pain medications.

Doctors can spend more time with patients, look for symptoms, notice increases in amounts and frequency of refill requests, and watch for patients who change providers to get prescriptions they want.

Pharmacists can help patients understand instructions for medications and watch for prescription falsifications or alterations.

With the help of family and friends, seniors can:
* Inform doctors about all prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and dietary and herbal supplements.
* Ask questions about potential interactions with other drugs and alcohol.
* Follow pharmacist and label directions.
* Store medications safely.
* Get rid of unused or expired medications.

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