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Prescription Drug Addiction Is A Problem Among Seniors
We’re constantly reading and hearing about the prescription drug epidemic that’s laying waste to millions of teenagers and young adults. But the media has paid scant attention to prescription drug addiction that’s affecting thousands of seniors across the country.
You have to be of a certain age to remember the scenes in TV and movie dramas (or comedies), where grandma or grandpa has a bottle or two of booze stashed somewhere in the house, barn, workshop, garage, office, bathroom, under the kitchen sink or in a hat box in the bedroom closet.
These days, it’s much more likely to be drugs that the old folks depend on — and too often, unknown to family and friends, a prescription drug addiction is taking its toll on what little strength and vitality remain.
Particularly worrisome are narcotic pain killers that easily lead seniors to dependence and prescription drug addiction. Even worse are antipsychotic medications like Risperdal, Seroquel and Zyprexa, which are frequently prescribed for dementia, a use for which they are not approved by the FDA. This is called ‘off-label’ prescribing, and is not to treat dementia, but to provide “chemical straightjackets” to keep seniors quiet and under control.
Although some doctors, and even some patients’ families, say antipsychotic medications help improve seniors’ quality of life, any positive results certainly don’t outweigh the risks. Such drugs can lead to dependence, if not a genuine prescription drug addiction, but their side effects include everything from chronic illness, to permanent injury, to death.
Dr. David Graham, the former FDA physician who blew the whistle on the dangers of Vioxx, told a congressional panel last February that Zyprexa and other antipsychotics actually kill about 15,000 nursing home residents each year. This stunning revelation has led to some, but not much, change in prescribing habits or seniors’ safety.
Barbara Hengstebeck, executive director of the Tallahassee-based Coalition to Protect America’s Elders, told the St. Petersburg Times recently that the lack of attention and care for seniors receiving dangerous, off-label prescription drugs is based on a rather cruel but apparently prevalent attitude.
“A lot of people feel like the elderly in nursing homes are expendable,” she said. “They’re old anyway, they have dementia anyway, they’re of no value to society. So what’s the big deal? That’s a sad commentary.”
According to the Times, about one in four nursing home residents are prescribed unapproved antipsychotic drugs. Sales to the elderly continue to rise, generating some $13-billion for Big Pharma this year.
As for narcotic painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, Lortab, morphine, methadone — the list goes on and on — prescribed by the truckload for seniors suffering chronic pain, the rise in prescription drug addiction among America’s seniors is soaring.
It is obvious that the responsible federal, state and local agencies that should care for and protect seniors are not doing the full job. And families, usually unaware of when prescription drug addiction afflicts their parents or grandparents, or that antipsychotics could be lethal, sheepishly believe what the agencies, the drug companies, and the physicians tell them to believe.
But it’s never too late to get off many drugs which are unnecessary or dangerous, and seek alternative care instead. Like anyone else, seniors can overcome prescription drug addiction, often with just a few days in a well-supervised medical drug detox program. From there on out, there are plenty of alternative choices for a healthier, safer life.
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