Opioid Related Hospitalization Triples Among Tennessee Seniors

The number of deaths attributed to opioid overdoses in hospital intensive care units doubled in a seven-year period between 2009 and 2015,  highlighting a new level of crisis in the opioid epidemic the United States, Canada and the European Union.  And new federal data shows a sharp increase in the number of seniors who were hospitalized due to painkillers; in Tennessee, triple the number of older adults were hospitalized after taking opioids in 2015 than were admitted in 2005.

According to a recent Associated Press report, seniors taking painkillers may metabolize their medications differently than a younger person, leaving them vulnerable to automobile accidents, falls, dangerous drug interactions and unintentional overdoses.   Many seniors have been taking pain medications for years but have not been given the opportunity to find alternative therapies to manage pain and wean off opioids.

Perception could also play a contributing role in the rapidly growing rate of opioid addiction among older adults.  Doctors who have concerns about continuing to prescribe pain medications may feel uncomfortable discussing the issue of addiction with seniors and will bargain with patients to explore alternatives while still prescribing an opioid.  In the past, health care providers were less concerned that seniors might become addicted to pain medication but that is quickly changing.  In fact, some medical practices are refusing patients who already have an opioid prescription.

Over the past decade, the number of seniors prescribed an opioid has been steadily rising.  A 2011 study of medicare beneficiaries found that nearly 15 per cent of seniors received a new opioid prescription upon discharge from hospital.   And while proper pain management is important to quality of life and recovery from surgery or injury, adverse effects, including death, are a growing concern.  Between 1999 and 2014, the number of deaths in the U.S. attributed to opioids more than tripled.

To read the full study of hospitals prescribing opioids to seniors, visit the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine here.

Do you monitor your medications? The Oldish has a Medication Checklist in the Toolkit available to anyone with a free membership.