Epidemic Proportions

Recently I was helping a young lady prepare an answer for a pageant onstage question.  The question was, “What is a news story that you are following and what is your opinion on the matter?”  After digging into the headlines, I landed on a topic that for me hit a little close to home.  The topic…opioid addiction.  I have typed this out and backspaced and stared at the words more times than I care to admit.  Years ago, I went to great lengths to make sure that absolutely no one knew that opioid addiction was a subject I knew anything about.  But sadly, I know all too well.  Not on a personal level.   But I guess observing the effects of addiction ravage your father’s body and mind are a bit personal.  My Dad died in 2001 at the age of 56 years old.  Now that I am 42 years old…I realize just how young he was when we lost him.  His official cause of death was renal carcinoma (kidney cancer).  But I know that his life was cut short due in part to the large amount of prescription pain killers he took every day.  He was an addict and he knew it.  We all knew it and it wreaked havoc on our lives.  Opioid addiction is an epidemic that affects many different age groups and the elderly are not immune to this problem.

Agingcare.com reports that 40 percent of the prescription drugs sold in the United States are used by the elderly, often for problems such as chronic pain, insomnia, and anxiety. According to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, as many as 17 percent of adults age 60 and over abuse prescription drugs. Narcotic painkillers, sleeping pills, and tranquilizers are the most commonly abused medication types.  When drugs come from a doctor’s prescription pad, misuse is harder to identify. We assume that pharmaceutical drugs are only used for treating legitimate medical conditions, and this is typically how seniors begin using these drugs. Doctors often prescribe older patients medications to help them cope with age-related physical and mental changes, such as depression, limited or painful mobility, and shorter, more irregular sleep cycles. Over time, seniors may develop a tolerance to a drug, so achieving the same “coping” effect requires larger and/or more frequent doses. The result is an inadvertent addiction to a specific medication.

Questions to Ask if You Suspect Prescription Misuse or Abuse

  • How much are they taking? If Mom used to take one or two pills a day, but now she is taking four or six, that’s a red flag. Looking at the dosing instructions on the pill bottle or container can give you a clue whether they are abiding by the prescriber’s instructions.
  • Has their behavior or mood changed? Are they argumentative, sullen, withdrawn, secretive or anxious?
  • Are they giving excuses as to why they need their medication?
  • Do they ever express remorse or concern about taking their medicine?
  • Do they have a “purse supply” or “pocket supply” in case of an emergency?
  • Have they recently changed doctors or drug stores?
  • Have they received the same prescription from two or more physicians or pharmacists at approximately the same time?
  • Do they become annoyed or uncomfortable when others talk about their use of medications?
  • Do they ever sneak or hide their meds?

 

How to Help a Loved One Manage Their Prescriptions Responsibly

  • Stay as connected as you can and make sure you know what medications your loved one is taking and why.
  • Check that they are following the prescribed dosage(s).
  • Encourage them to use painkillers and sedatives only when necessary and to taper off as soon as they can.
  • Look for alternative treatments. If a senior has an ongoing problem with pain, for example, a pain management specialist may be able to suggest strategies for controlling it without drugs.
  • Remind them to always avoid alcohol when taking painkillers or sedatives.
  • Encourage them to bring all their medications to their doctor when they go for their annual checkups, so the physician has an up-to-date record of exactly what they are taking.

If you suspect your loved one may be misusing or abusing their medications, consult with their prescribing physician to devise a solution. It may be useful to inquire about psychological tests to check for mood or behavior disorders and research treatment facilities that specialize in programs specifically for seniors. Many insurance plans cover stays at in-patient addiction centers.  It is difficult to face these problems, but the repercussions of sticking your head in the sand is worse for them and you.  Addiction is not something that happens only to the addict.  It affects the entire family.  Don’t just try to sweep problems under the carpet.

Need help???  Get help!!

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA’s) (National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357),(also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Callers can also order free publications and other information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m Afraid My Parents Are Forgetting To Take Their Medications

As our parents age, we often become concerned that they aren’t able to manage simple things, like remembering to take their medications.  Sometimes remembering to take medications is especially hard if our loved one has chronic health problems like diabetes or high blood pressure and takes several medications each day.  What can we do when we are concerned that our parents are forgetting to take their medications?

An easy first step is a trip to the physician to make sure that the medications our parents have are the ones they need to take.  When going with our parents to see their physician, be sure to take all the medications in their original prescription container for review by the physician.  Ask the physician if all the medications are necessary and also if it’s possible to schedule them to be taken no more than twice per day.  Simplifying how many times each day medications have to be taken will help streamline the process.

After the medications are reviewed and streamlined as much as possible, invest in a medication organizer.  These are inexpensive and available at most drug stores.  Fill the organizer with the medications for the appropriate time of day and familiarize your parents with how to use them.  Using the organizer shows at a glance whether medications have been taken and make keeping up with the correct dose much easier.  When looking for an organizer, make sure to obtain one that your parents can easily open and close and make sure that the dose times correspond to the dose times on the prescriptions.  For the first few days using the organizer, a reminder phone call may also be helpful.

If medication organizers, phone call reminders and other steps have failed, it may be time to consider an assisted living community.  Assisted living communities’ help individuals remember to take their medications at the time and correct dose ordered by their physician.  They also monitor individuals for any problems with medications and notify the physician and family if there is a problem.  This is especially important if the individual has chronic health problems.

 

For more information, visit GreatOaksManagement.com!

Are You Taking Too Much Medication?

Does it seem like everyone you know is taking medication for something?  Since 1 in 5 Americans age 45 and older have some type of chronic medical condition like high blood pressure or diabetes, chances are you have friends who are on long term medication.  Perhaps you are also taking a daily medication for a chronic medical condition.

Unfortunately, this trend gets worse as we get older.  76% of people over age 60 in the United States take at least 2 medications daily.  37% take 5 or more medications daily.  It’s easy to slip into this when we are often seen to specialist for specific health problems.  Before we know it, we may be seeing several specialists in addition to our primary care physician.  How do we know when we are taking too many medications?

All medications have side effects.  Sometimes a medication that is given to help a specific medical problem can make us have side effects that we don’t recognize as being caused by the medication.  The more medications you take, the more likely you are to have side effects, especially if there are interactions between the medications you take.

One way to address this is to do a “Medication Checkup” with your primary care physician.  Make an appointment for this and bring ALL the medications you take including those which are only as needed and any over the counter medications, vitamins or supplements.  You may find you are taking a medication you no longer need, or that switching to a different medication for a chronic medical condition can reduce or eliminate any side effects.

Another way to help prevent side effects caused by medication interaction is to make sure you use only one pharmacy.  Your pharmacist should have a complete list of all medications as well as over the counter medications, vitamins and supplements.  Ask your pharmacist before starting a new over the counter medication to make sure it doesn’t interact with the prescription medications you are currently taking.

Keep an up to date list of all prescriptions, over the counter medications, vitamins and supplements and make sure you update the list with any change.  Double check with your primary care provider at each visit to make sure their list is up to date as well.

When bothered by a new problem like insomnia, consider a non-drug approach to manage the problem. Getting some exercise at least 3 hours before bedtime, sticking to a schedule for going to bed each night, limiting caffeine in the evening and limiting electronic screens just before bed can be a non-medication way to help improve sleep.