When you hear about the opioid epidemic in America, don’t dismiss it as the younger generation’s problem. It is a significant problem for those over 50. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, opioid abuse declined for young people between 2002 and 2014 but doubled for those over 50 during the same time period.

Speaking before the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Senator Robert Casey, Jr. of Pennsylvania, said, “In 2016, one in three people with a Medicare prescription drug plan received an opioid prescription. This puts baby boomers and our oldest generation at great risk.”

What is an opioid?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioids are drugs found in the opium poppy. Some prescription opioids come directly from the plant while others are made in a laboratory. The most common illegal opioid is heroin. Prescription opioids include hydrocodone, morphine, and fentanyl. So, why are seniors at great risk for getting hooked on opioids? The reasons include life changes, chronic pain associated with aging, and just the easy accessibility, according to the Center on Addiction at centeronaddiction.org. Life changes such as divorce, death of a spouse, or retirement may cause seniors to self-medicate with opioids, according to the Center on Addiction.

Where do seniors get opioids?

When seniors complain about chronic pain, doctors tend to prescribe an opioid like OxyContin, Percocet, or Vicodin, rather than a non-opioid pain medication.

However, senior adults metabolize drugs at a much slower rate than young people so they will experience more intense effects for a longer period of time. The result is they can become addicted in a shorter period of time than young people. If your doctor prescribes an opioid, be sure you understand the side effects. For example, opioids depress the central nervous system, making seniors at risk of falling, according to Amada Senior Care at amadaseniorcare.com. Falls are serious since many seniors have bone density issues. The opioids may also lead to confusion and drowsiness so seniors on opioids should not drive, make important decisions, or even watch their grandchildren.

Be sure to follow the directions for taking the medicine exactly, says Amada Senior Care. Also, you need to understand the interactions the drugs may have with the other prescriptions you already take. Check with your doctor or pharmacist about those interactions. And never drink alcohol while taking an opioid.

It’s also important to keep others safe by putting your opioid prescriptions in a secure place, maybe even locked up somewhere so others can’t get into them accidentally or deliberately, advises Amada Senior Care. And definitely do not share the medication. That is not only illegal but could also lead to another person’s death because of a negative reaction to the drug.

If you have any pain pills left, discard them properly such as in the Red Med Boxes available at local police departments. Don’t let pain make you part of the opioid crisis. Take care to understand the benefits and risks of opioids and make an informed decision about their use.

Rose, P., Freelance Writer/Editor, RSVP Volunteer (2018, October). Opioid Addiction Is Not Just for the Young. TRIAD NEWSLETTER Safety for Older Adults


National Prescription Drug Take Back Day

Saturday, October 27, 2018


Senior Services of Southwest Michigan cares about people affected by opioid addiction.  Many older adults in our community may be touched in some way by this crisis and we are ready to listen and offer assistance.


Law enforcement, seniors and concerned citizens are working together in a group called Triad of Kalamazoo County to increase older adult safety and allay their fears of crime. Triad can educate individuals on how to keep medications safe in their home, how to dispose of old medicine properly, and are available to connect individuals to local experts for further assistance. To learn more about Triad click here or call (269) 382-0515.