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Many of you have probably heard all of the talk on the news about the opioid epidemic, but how many of you associate that problem with seniors? Between 26.4 million and 36 million people worldwide are abusing opioids and this includes heroin, methadone, and prescription analgesics. Almost 100% of Vicodin and 81% of oxycodone are consumed exclusively in the United States. It is estimated that 2.1 million people have an opioid use disorder related to prescription pain relievers. So when you think about what our older adults are being prescribed for pain, it is not shocking our senior population may have a problem.  


Symptoms of opioid withdrawal can be severe. Withdrawal occurs in up to 60% of people who use opioid prescription pain medications. These symptoms include flu-like symptoms, irritability, sensitivity to pain, depressed mood, nausea or vomiting, insomnia, and sweating. The anxiety, depression and insomnia can last for weeks or months. It is not surprising that many attempts to stop using these prescriptions often fail. The prognosis for opioid use disorder is poor, with nearly 90% relapsing in the first 6 months following treatment to stop using.  


Per the DSM-V, there are criteria to be diagnosed with opioid use disorder, based on experiencing at least 2 of the following conditions over the past 12 months:

1. Opioids have been taken in larger amounts or over a longer period of time that was intended.

2. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control opioid use.

3. Continued opioid use despite knowledge of having persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problems that are likely caused or exacerbated by the substance.

4. Increased tolerance, leading to a need for a larger dose to achieve the desired effect, and to relieve or avoid the symptoms of withdrawal.  

Seniors are also at risk of elder abuse because of opioid prescriptions. Many seniors have opioid prescriptions in their home. In some cases, relatives with an opioid addiction may attempt to steal or ask to have some of the pain medications to satisfy their need. Opioid sales on the black market are also very lucrative and can be enticing for people to take from seniors, in an attempt to make money to feed their own addictions or financial problems.  


If you or someone you know is struggling with pain or other health problems, please call Western Illinois Home Health Care at 1-800-228-5993. Our skilled home health care team can evaluate, educate, and make recommendations on your care needs and pain management. We can also talk to your doctor about other options for medications and pain control and monitor symptoms and side effects.


Amanda Powell, BSW, is a Senior Care Manager at Western Illinois Home Health Care


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February 2018

by Amanda Powell

Opioid Use in Seniors