It is now estimated that 5.7 million Americans age 50 and older will become addicted, and in need of treatment by the year 2020. Using a systematic review and PRISMA guidelines, Maree and colleagues (2016) examined the available evidence on opioid and benzodiazepine prescription patterns, as well as misuse, abuse and addiction among older adults in the U.S. Opioids and benzodiazepines were chosen because of their association with fatal and nonfatal overdoses, as well as the overall high mortality rate associated with these medications.
Opioids and benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed together because of the unde-sirable side effects associated with opioid use, e.g., insomnia, pain, muscle spasms, anxiety and depression, to name a few. The authors suggest, and we agree, that older adults are likely adjusting their dose without direction or approval from the prescribing physician, while unaware of the adverse reactions and the potential risks associated with their combined use.
This study reviewed publications that included participants age ≥65 years. The available evidence germane to substance use disorder was sparse. As our society ages, particularly baby boomers, more cohort studies are needed. The authors recommend better and more frequent screening for drug misuse, particularly in the primary care setting, where aging adults go for medical evaluation, advice and treatment.
Why Does This Matter?
The baby boomers are aging and anecdotal evidence from communities in Florida suggest that the 60s with sex, drugs, and rock n roll are making a comeback. STDs and addictions among these aging boomers is a fact of life in Florida. Skyrocketing mortality among those with opioid use disorder suggests a need for more research and the development of age specific overdose prevention, as well as opioid antagonist or substitution therapy for some across the lifespan. Second, for older adults, changes in liver function is normal, but for drug and alcohol abusers, liver function is often compromised and thus, related to the increased risk of overdose and accidental death. The article informs professionals of the urgent need for more research and development of better age specific prevention and treatment resources, especially those that address the complex health needs of older adults with substance use disorders.