Opioid Addiction Is Rising in Seniors—Who’s at Fault?

Opioid Addiction Is Rising in Seniors—Who’s at Fault?

Lawsuits against pharma companies claim seniors are being targeted for opioid consumption.

OxyContin has made over $31 billion in sales, and pharma companies have been accused of endangering the health of the elderly—all for a profit.

That’s just what a suit by the state of Oregon against Purdue Pharma claims. Using the Elderly Persons and Persons with Disabilities Abuse Prevention Act, the state’s Department of Justice says Purdue (the makers of OxyContin) targeted the elderly.

In 2015, for every 100,000 seniors in Oregon, nearly 700 people 65 and older were sent to the hospital because of opioids. And, says the suit, the company focused on long-term care facilities and urged doctors to prescribe opioids at higher dosages than were safe for people over 65.

The lawsuit also states Purdue minimized the risks of abuse and addiction of its opioids, falsely claiming that OxyContin posed a lower threat of abuse and addiction than other painkillers and increased function for patients with chronic pain.

That’s tough stuff . . . but they’re not the only folks saying it. From Colorado to Tennessee, states across the country are filing suits against the company. And as far back as 2007, the company and three executives pleaded guilty in federal court to criminal charges that they misled regulators, doctors and patients about OxyContin’s addictive powers and agreed to pay more than $600 million in fines and other payments.

Guess that’s why the US has 4.6 percent of the world’s population but consumes 80 percent of the world’s opioids!

But OxyContin isn’t the only medication that’s got older folks on the ropes. Take the recent study that found—unbelievable!—25 percent of older Americans who are prescribed Xanax or Valium to help them sleep or quell anxiety become hooked! Since 9 to 12 percent of women and about 5 to 6 percent of men 65 or older are prescribed the drug, that’s up to 2,205,000 addicted seniors.

Why does this happen?
As a society, we look for shortcuts—we give or take a pill instead of exerting the effort necessary to improve well-being through lifestyle choices (nutrition, exercise, sleep, de-stressing and avoiding toxins).

Also, to some older folks—who decades before indulged in a little recreational cocaine or marijuana—the use of drugs to alter their pain or distress isn’t a stretch. In fact, a new study found 9 percent of adults aged 50 to 64 and almost 3 percent of those 65 and older had used marijuana in the past year. And those folks, say the researchers from New York University School of Medicine, are more likely to abuse alcohol, cocaine and prescription drugs.

Whatever the cause, these days it’s fair to say that we’re living in a society where many don’t know how to age healthfully. Witness the fact that 90 million of you have diabetes or prediabetes, 100 million live with chronic pain, and around 60 million experienced an anxiety disorder during the past year. Many of these conditions can be remedied with proper diet and exercise.

Taking charge
Whatever your age, take the opportunity to change your future by reducing pain and anxiety:

  • Learn to manage stress.
  • Lose weight if you need to.
  • Improve your nutrition by eliminating highly processed foods and red meats, and going for fruits, veggies and 100 percent whole grains.
  • Get moving by walking, doing pool exercises, chair-based yoga, strength-building exercises and stretching.

There’s no better medicine than that!

As your body helps you control pain, you’ll sleep better, dispel stress and increase your enjoyment of life. Then—if truly needed—pain and anti-anxiety medications may be smart to take and effective.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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