Prescription drugs are the second most commonly abused drugs after cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin. In the recent years, there have been several cases of pill addiction and abuse in the elderly population. The National Institutes of Health approximates that nearly 20% of people in the US alone have used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes, with the larger group being the elderly. For this reason this paper seeks to explore patterns of prescription abuse and addiction in the specific socio-ethno cultural group of the elderly. For instance, it is approximated that 3% to 15% of any adult population is using and maybe addicted to benzodiazepines, and of this population 60% to 65% are women. This is a clear indication that there is a major problem in the patterns of drug abuse and addiction among the elderly people. Pill abuse and addiction is a real problem among the elderly population, as they are a predominantly susceptible group. The elderly population is vulnerable to pill dependence because of the exceptional challenges that the older people face in society. Pills, in this case, mainly comprise of prescription medicine for various reasons. A growing problem is the increasing dependency on this prescription medicine to the point of addiction. Pills are used for a variety of reasons, and the most common reasons are provision of energy, relaxation and sleep.
This paper aims at exploring the patterns of prescription abuse and addiction in the specific socio-ethno cultural group of the elderly. The information, concerning the subject, will be from relevant research studies, published in secondary sources such as books, journals, and periodicals.
For one to be recognized as an elderly person in the United States, the person must have attained the age of 50 and this goes up to 65 years. The broad-spectrum use of the category elderly is confined to those persons who are 65 years and above. This differentiation conforms to the average age, connected to retirement. This suits most governmental statistics, and the most common age bracket for any research, concerning the elderly population. It is important to have a demarcation of age, when discussing about the elderly because of the social and physiological changes that exist in different age groups. Physiological changes, which occur in the elderly population, are usually accompanied with certain social changes and these changes are responsible for the elderly involvement in prescription addiction and abuse. In addition, there are substantial differences in growing old in line with sex, socio-economic status, ethnicity or race, and by personal life circumstances. Prescription drugs are usually meant for certain medical purposes and the problems come in, when the users stop using the drugs for medical purposes. For this reason, people rate abuse of these prescription drugs as deliberate overuse with knowledge that overuse or high frequency of the drugs is improper or inappropriate (Berkman, 1985).
Most people make use of the prescription drugs or over the counter medicines. However, the elderly comprise of a significant share of drug buyers, following their failing health. Of the total users of prescription drugs, persons, aged 65 and older, make up for about 10% of the population and they get from 25% to 30% of all the prescriptions. From government and other records, almost one third of all medication expenditures for the elderly go for the prescription medicines and are in use by over two thirds of those, aged 60 and above. The problem begins from the point that close to 80% of older people suffer from chronic medical conditions and the chances of multiple medical tribulations increase with progressing age. The use of prescription drugs among the elderly is approximately from 25% to 30%, which rate two and a half times more than that of any other population group. Multifaceted medication regimens, multiple health conditions, and use of several care providers predispose the elderly to a high risk of adverse drug reactions. Statistics indicate that the elderly population suffer two to five times the frequency of adverse drug reactions as compared to the younger population. For instance 10% of hospital admittances for elderly people are caused by drug reactions (Maisto, Galizio & Connors, 2010).
Some prescription medications have a tendency of becoming addictive, particularly when they are used in an inconsistent manner. Examples of such prescription medication include narcotic painkillers such as vicodin or oxycontin, sedatives and tranquilizers such as valium or xanax, and stimulants like Ritalin, Dexedrine, or adderall. Other prescription drugs on the rise of abuse include steroids, which, in normal cases, are supposed to treat a variety of medical conditions, e.g. AIDS and cancer. Unfortunately, elderly people use steroids to suit their personal reasons, and not for the prescribed purposes (Berkman, 1985).
Types of elderly substance/prescription abusers or addiction
There are two types of substance abusers in the elderly population, and they include the hardy survivors and late onset. The hardy survivors refer to those elderly substance abusers who have dealt with prescription drugs and other substances past 65 years of age. On the other hand, late onset refers to those who only start the behavior of pill addiction later in life.
Reasons for Prescription Abuse
The major problem is the prescription practice of drugs and medicines for the elderly people. Recent reports on a national study established that nearly one quarter of the elderly are receiving recommended drugs, whose use is contraindicated due to the dangers of unfavourable reactions. This population is predominantly vulnerable to adverse reactions to psychotropic medication, whose utilization is often not suggested for seniors. The above example is equally not prescribed in cases, where the elderly person will use it for long time due to the dangers of confusion, falls, sleep disorders, and misinterpretations of some symptoms as signs of senility. Despite the adverse reactions to the psychotropic medications, older adults still receive as many as 50% of the prescriptions, which lead to drug abuse.
Miscommunication among patients and providers contributes to the abuse of prescription drugs. Moreover, lack of co-ordination and care follow up in the elderly people leads to the abuse and addiction of prescription drugs. The elderly population often have sensory and cognitive deficits. Thus, comprehending medication instructions is difficult. Unfortunately, the physicians forget this aspect, and on average, spend less time with their older patients than with the younger ones. They also provide the elderly patients with less information, concerning their drugs and medications. For instance, there are reports of excessive rates of use of prescription drugs among the elderly in nursing homes. The blame for elderly abuse and misuse of prescription drugs does not solely lie with the physicians and care providers but also with the elderly patients. The elderly themselves play a major role in medication abuse as they fail to fully disclose symptoms of what they are suffering from, and therefore, the medics end up prescribing the wrong medication (Maisto, Galizio & Connors, 2010). For the elderly persons, they start taking a number of pills for a myriad of reasons, e.g. managing cholesterol and blood pressure. Hence, they easily adapt to the use of narcotic painkillers and more addictive medication. Elderly patients also underuse medication in a bid to avoid experiencing the drug’s side effects or to save money. A much worse case is when the patients mix the medication with alcohol!
In addition to the above reasons for prescription abuse and addiction, there are other reasons that vary, depending on an individual. Most elderly people will become prescription addicts because of loneliness, chronic pain, and boredom, lack of meaningful employment, financial hardships, and grief because of the loss of loved ones. The availability of the prescription drugs is another major reason, leading to the rise of drug abuse by the elderly people. With the present technological advances, obtaining these drugs is easy, especially with the online pharmacies, whereby one can get the drugs without guidelines from physicians. Another interesting perception amongst the elderly people is that prescription drugs are safer than the prohibited street drugs. Generally, bought prescription drugs are easily accessible as they are not locked up. Moreover, they are not properly disposed, when no longer in use. This increases chances of drug abuse and addiction (Lowinson, 2005).
The risks of pill addiction and abuse among the elderly
In general, the elderly are very vulnerable to the adverse effects of drug addiction and drug abuse. The bodies of the elderly people have less defence capability, especially in light of aggravating factors such as drug abuse. In less severe cases, the elderly pill addicts go unnoticed, especially those, who live alone. Their solitude kind of life restricts people from getting information about the drugs and medication records, and any other symptoms may be misdiagnosed as a condition due to age. The elderly persons who are likely to engage in pill addiction and abuse includes those who have not attained their goals in life or/and have a family history of addiction. Other reasons include suffering from mental health problems, separation/divorce, financial difficulties etc.
Symptoms of pill addiction and abuse in the elderly population
As indicated earlier, it can be difficult to make a diagnosis of pill addiction in the elderly population because of their solitude life and the aging aspect. Irrespective of this, the characteristic symptoms of pill addicts include secretive behavior, memory problems and blackouts, inability to focus on small matters, irrational behavior, depression and negativity.
Treatment of pill addicts and abusers
The main way, in which people can reduce the pill addiction in elderly people, is by providing information, concerning the risks of such abuse. For instance, one of the reason as to why elderly people abuse prescription pills is the notion that they are not as dangerous as the other unlawful drugs. This means that there is insufficient information about the dangers of abusing prescription drugs, and therefore, elderly people erroneously assume that they are safe. In addition, there can be a lack of knowledge about the risks of mixing certain prescription medications with alcohol. Formation of addiction support groups can as well be helpful to older people, addicted to the pill. The elderly will find support and fellowship from other people, dealing with the similar difficulties in such gatherings. In the event one notices an elderly person having symptoms and signs of pill abuse or addiction, he/she should recommend a therapist for the patient. Therapists are helpful in examining the origin of the pill addiction problem and guiding the addicts towards a solution. Another option for the pill addicts is to enrol into a rehabilitation program (Graham, 1995).
There should be prevention activities, which target the elderly people and this could involve a focus on high risk occurrences like the demise of a spouse or friends. From the above discussion, one of the reasons that lead the elderly to pill abuse is the loss of a closed one. Hence, the elderly need counselling in preparation for such events. Preparation for retirement can also count in the prevention of pill addiction and abuse because with retirement comes social changes, financial matters and insurance issues. A focus on health concerns may be proper for the elderly people in their 60s. There should be more specialized health care providers for the elderly people who can devote ample time, looking after these people. Pill abuse and addiction in the aged is not easily detected. This is also attributed to little attention by health personnel who fail in making patient follow-up (Graham, 1995). The physicians also need to be careful, when dealing with elderly patients and appreciate the old age. They should establish a good rapport with the elderly and, in turn, they will freely share information. The instructions for the prescribed medication should be clear and simple. If necessary, the elderly might require help in understanding their medical regime. Controlling access to the prescription medications is also a major step to preventing pill abuse and addiction. All pharmacies, whether physical or online, should demand for prescribed notes from the patient’s physicians before issuing out drugs and if necessary make follow ups on the progress of the patient (Whittington, 1988).
Pill addiction and abuse is a growing problem for the elderly and it is essential that relevant people and authorities take a step in preventing and minimising the problem. From the records, it is evident that a large part of the elderly population is victims of prescription drugs and medication addiction and abuse. The main causes for pill addiction amongst the elderly are common issues that everybody can help to control. Prior planning to the occurrences of these causes is necessary so as to avoid the increasing numbers of pill addiction and abuse. Sensitizing the elderly population about harms and dangers of abusing prescription drugs is paramount in every region. Encouraging families with elderly people on ways to monitor and look after the aged is an appropriate intervention. Evidently, the aged need support and tender, loving care. Lack of this is bound to lead to other comfort options such as pill addiction. The aged people need to be well monitored, as they are susceptible to amnesia and dementia. These two conditions heighten the propensity to pill addiction since the affected individual is likely to take pills in an inconsistent manner.