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 Prescription opioids sold in the United States has almost quadrupled within the past 20 years. End The Epidemic states that as a result, ‘the U.S. is currently experiencing a prescription opioid epidemic.’ According to the CDC, ‘the number of drug overdose deaths increased by nearly 5% from 2018 to 2019.  Over 70% of the 70,630 deaths in 2019 involved an opioid.’ When people think of an opioid epidemic, they are thinking illegal substances sold in an alley.  But Opioids are actually prescribed by a doctor or from a medical facility.

WHAT IS AN OPIOID: According to, Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine and morphine.  Doctors and many other medical facilities have prescribed Oxycodone for older adults who have had surgery, are in constant chronic pain and who have certain diseases. ‘Opioid use among older adults can result in excessive sedation, respiratory depression, and impairment in vision, attention, and coordination, as well as falls (SAMHSA, 2012)’. Older adults with opioid use disorder appear to be at a higher risk of death compared to younger adults with the disorder.

ITS EFFECT ON OLDER ADULTS: In some cases, adult children and/or grandchildren, older family members and even caretakers may abuse older adults by forcing or coercing and even stealing pain medications that are prescribed to them.  

Kathleen Cameron, with the National Council on Aging has stated ‘that older adults are actually misusing and becoming addicted to opioids as a result of pain management or depression’. As a result of either being addicted and their money going to additional medication, or perhaps their children now addicted to their parent’s medications, the older adult is in need of additional services from their local Council on Aging such as a Home Delivered Meals, transportation or services to help pay for other basic needs.  

If you suspect an older adult you know, or yourself, that could possibly be addicted to an Opioid or another substance, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357), which is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service  for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. If you need help navigating through this topic, call The West Baton Rouge Council on Aging (225)383-0638

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