Although a majority of the opioid overdose deaths in Georgia are of people under age 50, the senior population is at risk, too.
Older adults are among the major users of opioid drugs because their doctors prescribe them, according to Judi Kanne, a registered nurse and freelance writer.
Drug overdoses have become the leading cause of death of Americans under 50, with two-thirds of those deaths from opioids. Seniors often are prescribed opioids like Percocet or Lortab to treat moderate to severe pain, according to Dr. Samer B. Blackmon of Piedmont Physicians at White Oak.
Blackmon said seniors can take those drugs to relieve pain without danger if they’re careful.
“Stick to the dose prescribed by your physician,” Blackmon said. “Addiction is different than becoming tolerant to medications and is more a mental state issue.”
Blackmon said opioids do not mix well with alcohol or other medications and drugs.
“Speak with your physician about other medications you take regularly,” Blackmon said.
The Piedmont doctor said a common side-effect of opioids in elderly patients is constipation.
“You want to be careful to avoid polypharmacy,” Blackmon said.
Polypharmacy is the concurrent use of multiple medications by a patient, which can happen when multiple prescriptions are prescribed to treat side effects. Polypharmacy is most common among the elderly, particularly because they most likely are already taking multiple medications daily.
Blackmon said patients can also talk to their doctors about how to wean off of a medication.
From June 2016 to May 2017, the total number of opioid doses prescribed to Georgia patients surpassed 541 million, according to Attorney General Chris Carr.
Recent data from AARP suggests a sharp increase in opioid use among Americans of all ages, including those over 55.
- 55-plus years – 32 percent.
- 35-54 – 36 percent
- 25-34 – 31 percent
- 15-24 – 7 percent
Georgia’s Department of Public Health data shows that older people are the demographic with the highest rate of opioid prescriptions.
In 2016, Gov. Nathan Deal signed executive orders to put naloxone into the hands of more Georgians. The General Assembly later codified those orders by passing legislation. The law supports expanding naloxone awareness and availability to the general public.