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People over the age of 65 make up a relatively small part of the total American population, but they make up a very large percentage of the outpatient spending on prescription medications. For a variety of reasons, any nonmedical use of these prescriptions causes outcomes that are often worse than those experienced by younger users.
As prescriptions opioids, like hydrocodone and codeine, are common in treating moderate to severe and chronic pain, many older people hold prescriptions for them and that can easily develop from proper use to dependence and addiction, as demonstrated by the growing number of seniors with a substance use disorder.
How Do Prescription Opioids Work?
Both hydrocodone and codeine are opioid, or narcotic, painkillers. This means that they operate by attaching to opioid receptors in the gastrointestinal tract, spinal cord, brain, and other organs. Once attached, they interrupt pain signals, diminishing the pain experienced by the user. They also have the potential to create a euphoria, or “high.” This occurs when the attachment of the medications triggers a reward response in the brain, flooding it with feel-good chemicals, like dopamine.
Why Are They Being Misused?
It is important to keep in mind that though there is a growing number of older addicts, they don’t necessarily end up with a substance use disorder because they are chasing a high. Some are given so many prescriptions that they get confused and misuse them. Others are experiencing some form of cognitive decline and this can cause them to use their medication in ways other than prescribed. Others may lack the money for medication and use another person’s prescriptions instead. There are a variety of reasons.
But, there is only one certain solution to the problems of dependence and addiction. Seniors need access to professional, structured rehab. Qualified addiction treatment offers its participants the best possible chance at a positive recovery outcome. To learn about the role rehab can play in your life or the life of a senior that you love, call 800-291-1732 (Who Answers?) . There is no reason to wait.
How Common is Pain Among Older People?
Older people face a higher than average prevalence of pain. The degree of pain experienced by members of this age group varies according to living situations, with 25-50 percent of seniors living in their community reporting pain and 70 percent of those in a nursing home reporting pain, according to an article in Clinical Interventions in Aging. While, the American Geriatrics Society claims up to 80 percent of those in long-term care have considerable pain. They report one quarter of those senior in pain receive no treatment for their pain.
Why Are Hydrocodone, Codeine, and Other Opioids Prescribed to Older People?
Doctors who treat older people, called geriatricians, often care for older people as part of a palliative care plan, those made for people with a serious illness. The plan treats side effects and symptoms of the treatment and the disease, as well as emotional, practical, social, and spiritual issues caused by the disease. The World Health Organization has a palliative pain management ladder and it asserts patient with moderate to severe pain ought to have medications, like hydrocodone and codeine, as treatment mainstays.
Opioids are simply the norm for treating both chronic and acute pain, as well as other types of pain. According to a meta-analysis on the efficacy and side effects of opioids for treating chronic pain not related to cancer, opioids work much better than placebos when it comes to reducing pain and improving functional activities. For this reason, among others, they are commonplace in clinical pain management.
Why Are Hydrocodone and Codeine Use So Dangerous for Older People?
There are a number of factors that complicate the use of narcotic painkillers.
- There are high rates of co-occurring disorders among seniors. This means that they often have more than one health and/or mental condition and the disorders and their treatments impact each other. This complicates the use of opioid medications.
- Older people face age-related changes in the way that they metabolize medications.
- They face a higher potential for drug interaction, given the sheer volume of medication typically prescribed.
- They often use vitamins and over-the-counter treatments that can exacerbate health consequences.
Older people who have become dependent upon or addicted to hydrocodone or codeine deserve to regain control of their lives. Treatment can help. Call 800-291-1732 (Who Answers?) for additional information.