You’re likely aware of the drug epidemic in America. Who isn’t? But few people know about the crisis that’s taking a backseat; the other big drug problem. It’s taking place behind closed doors among the older generations.
In senior and assisted living communities, addiction is a real issue. Obviously, older people tend to have more health problems and subsequently, pain. Hence, you see a lot of opioid pain medications prescribed. Add to this the fact the phenomenon of medications being passed around by tenants and you can see how issues could arise. And they do. There are even reports of heroin making its way into such communities.
More pervasive, though, is the trend of overprescribing. Researchers estimate that 25% of people over the age of 65 are on five or more prescriptions. Often, it’s discovered that several of these are unwarranted and unneeded medications. Chief among these, are often psychotropic drugs such as antidepressants.
Antidepressant drugs are susceptible to off-label use, many of which have been approved for such prescription. This means they’re often used for sleep, anxiety, and other odd side effects which aren’t the main purpose of the drug. They’re very powerful in the way they alter brain chemistry, which makes this a risky practice. Many older adults are put on two or more of these drugs simultaneously.
Interestingly, doctors have a habit of continuing people on medications that a former physician prescribed simply because. This is even more so the case when the patient has been to a hospital and discharged with several new medications. They go in with three, leave with three more and are now continued on these new ones for a total of six medications. The cycle repeats, and no one’s really sitting down and looking at all this and determining if it’s warranted or could be cut down. Some people have been on thyroid medicine for 50 years because an ill-advised doctor once gave it to them to lose weight.
There’s also the cascade effect. This occurs when a person is given one medication which creates an unwanted side effect, and then another one is prescribed to address that side effect. For example, a drug given to treat hypertension may cause swollen ankles, which then leads to prescribing a water pill. The water pill creates a potassium deficiency, which now requires a new medication, etc. Unfortunately, lots of medications have mental side-effects and antidepressants are usually the first line of defense for these.
The younger people are, there’s a societal tendency to give more value to their life and the quality of it. It’s unfair to think that because someone “may die soon”, that their healthcare be managed with less caution and oversight. It’s doubtful that anyone wants to live the remainder of their existence, however long that may be, in a drug-laden fog trying to remember which pill to take when. Failing to get a hold of this problem soon may mean the same fate for future generations, which could include you.