New report: Elderly most likely to be hospitalized for opioid abuse

BELLEVUE, Washington – We often talk about the opioid epidemic, and typically think of the victims as being young people. But new reports prove otherwise.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services cites seniors as the most likely to abuse prescription drugs, and the most likely to show the worst side effects.

"Older people tend to have a lot of chronic diseases, some of which tend to cause a lot of chronic pain,” said Dr. Kentaro Nishino, a geriatrician.

Because older Americans are more fragile and less likely to be candidates for surgery, they're often treated with pain medication. Ibuprofin and other over-the-counter drugs often have negative side-effects for seniors.

“They can cause kidney damage, especially in seniors; overtime, they’re a very big reason for bleeding ulcers in seniors,” said Nishino.

So harsher opioids are prescribed more often for the older generation than other age groups.

Overtime, frequent use of strong medication builds up in older people's bodies, putting them at a higher risk for falling, confusion, and even hospitalization. That's why the Department of Health and Human Services is warning doctors, pharmacists, and family members to watch out for seniors.

On top of that, the goal now is alternatives to pain medicines.

“Physical therapy, meditation, there’s different alternatives … acupuncture, chiropractic needs,” said Donatella Kim, geriatric pharmacist.

“If your grandpa or elderly father is looking non-responsive, tired throughout the day, that might be an indication they’re getting too much of the pain medication,” said Kim.

The Department of HHS also recommends hospitals keep an electronic database of all their patients' medications. Previously, seniors would have many different prescriptions from their dentists, doctors, and psychologists, and some of the drugs would off-set each other and cause even more harmful side-effects.

With more sharing of information between physicians, over-prescribing will hopefully become limited.