Opioids are often prescribed to older adults to treat pain associated with arthritis, neuropathy, surgeries or injuries, bone fractures, organ failure and stroke.
While prescription opioids can manage pain and allow patients more mobility and functionality, they can also increase risk of falls, cause confusion or disorientation, and increase risk for heart attack.
For adults taking prescription pain relievers, it’s important to take them safely to avoid addiction or overdose.
Don’t share prescription drugs with others, and never take someone else’s prescription if you run out of your own.
Always double check the label to be sure you’re taking the correct pill.
Take your medications only as long as they’re needed, and never more than directed by your healthcare provider.
Don’t crush pills unless you have been instructed to do so by your healthcare provider.
Everyone taking prescription pain relievers has an increased risk for opioid misuse as part of the normal aging process. Here’s why:
Your metabolism slows down as you age, which means it takes longer for your body to break down and absorb medications. Your healthcare provider may need to adjust dosages to account for these changes.
Approximately 25% of older adults experience mental health issues including depression, anxiety and dementia, and two-thirds do not receive the appropriate treatment.
Source: National Council on Aging
Among people age 65 and older:
If you develop chronic medical conditions, you will likely take medications to manage them. The more medications you take, the greater the risk for negative drug interactions.
Source: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
You may call it “getting older,” but the following symptoms are NOT part of the aging process and instead may indicate a dependence on prescription pain relievers:
Using opioids in combination with other medications and substances can increase your risk for accidental overdose.
Alcohol use while taking prescription opioids should be avoided. Because both work as depressants, the effects of both substances can slow your breathing and increase your risk for overdose and death.
As you age, your metabolism slows, which makes moderate levels of alcohol consumption more risky and increases your blood alcohol content faster.
Source: American Geriatrics
Benzodiazepines — commonly known as Valium, Xanax and Ativan and used to treat anxiety, sleeping disorders and muscle spasms — should not be taken with opioids.
Approximately 30% of opioid-related overdoses involve benzodiazepines. Taken together, the drug combination increases your risk for overdose 10-fold because they both have sedative effects that can slow breathing and cause overdose and death.
An effective way to prevent death from an opioid overdose is to carry naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal agent.
Family members of people who take prescription opioids should learn how to administer naloxone in the event of an accidental overdose.