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Source: Institute for Public Strategies San Diego


April 26, 2018 (San Diego) -- With Prescription Drug Take Back Day coming up on April 28, San Diegans are encouraged to turn in medications that have expired or they no longer need so that they cannot be abused or overused. This is especially true among senior citizens, a demographic we don’t normally associate with a growing drug problem. 

Prescription drug abuse is a real problem among the older generation here in San Diego County. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid deaths among the 65 and older population in San Diego County doubled from 2010 to 2015. Emergency departments experienced a 164.8 percent jump in opioid-related discharges for this age group during the same time frame. 


Opioids include pain medications such as hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin), oxycodone (e.g., Oxycontin, Percocet), morphine and codeine. Opioids are also used to treat depression and anxiety.  

Prescription drugs – medication that is assumed to be ‘safe’ because it is prescribed under a doctor’s care – are concerning, especially when multiple medications are prescribed to the same patient. Studies show that multi-drug interaction can cause cognitive and functional impairment, falls, urinary incontinence and malnourishment. Seniors are especially vulnerable to these effects, and the effect can include addiction.


Though not the only cause, over-prescribing has contributed substantially to the addiction rate among seniors. Opioids were designed to treat extreme pain related to cancer and end-of-life care, but noticing their ability to treat pain following accidents and surgeries, doctors started prescribing them to treat these afflictions.As patients were introduced to more options for pain management using opioids, the rate of usage increased leading to some individuals to become dependent and addicted to that opioid medication.


“I refer to them as the ‘accidental addict,’” says Scott Silverman, founder and CEO of Confidential Recovery, a drug addiction treatment center in San Diego. “Doctors were misled by Big Pharma into believing they weren’t addictive and prescribed the opioids, thinking they were helping their patients with pain management.”


Moreover, seniors under the care of more than one doctor are at risk if the patient’s medical team does not communicate effectively with each other, resulting in drug interactions due to medications that do not interact well with each other.


Doctors warn that it is easy to misdiagnose prescription drug abuse in seniors because symptoms, such as lethargy and memory lapses, mimic typical signs of the natural aging process and can also exasperate the onset of diseases associated with aging such as heart, kidney, or liver diseases. And unfortunately, this often results in even more medicines, complicating the situation further. 

Reversing the trend of opioid-related hospitalizations and deaths requires significant improvement in the way doctors interact with patients and the way they communicate with each other. The San Diego County Medical Society recommends using one pharmacy for all prescriptions so possible adverse drug interactions can be recognized by the pharmacist, and proper education can be provided.  


Silverman also recommends that family members question and seek professional help when they suspect their loved one has an addiction problem and aren’t just exhibiting normal signs of aging. He also emphasizes the necessity of getting rid of unwanted medication so that they don’t end up being abused by dropping them off at prescription drug drop boxes, or by participating in the community-wide Prescription Drug Take Back Day.




Source: World Health Organization and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Signs of overmedication

Signs of opioid overdose

*Difficulty waking from sleep

*Blue or purple fingernail tips

*Altered mental status

*Extremely pale and/or clammy face

*Slurred speech

*Inability to speak

*Intoxicated behavior

*Limp body

*Pinpoint pupils

*Respiratory depression

*Unusual sleepiness or drowsiness



*Inability to arouse from sleep


*Vomiting or gurgling noises



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Instead of pushing opioids on patients (even when the patient states clearly they do not want that particular type of pain reliever) doctors should offer Tylenol or Ibuprofin as a first choice and attempt to deter the patient from possible addiction by talking with them about the dangers of these products. No doubt we can thank big pharma for the nations epidemic, while those in power at the White House looked the other way as they ignored the facts. Politics and money muddying the water once again.