Prescription Drug Abuse New Target For Senior Living Attention

There’s no question that certain challenges face the senior living industry with the coming wave of baby boomers. But one question that hasn’t yet been answered is: How will a rise in the misuse of medications be addressed?

Prescription drug abuse and misuse by seniors doesn’t get much attention, but with the aging population steadily growing, it’s getting harder to ignore, writes The Wall Street Journal in a recent article

In a previous study, nearly 50% of seniors reported that their substance abuse relied largely on prescription medications. 

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“The use and availability of highly addictive medications continues to rise, with very little recognition of the problem,” David Oslin, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, tells the WSJ.  

Opiates and antianxiety medications are of particular concern, not just for their addictive potential but also because of the dangers that arise when patients take them for too long. Prolonged use of psychoactive meds such as these has been associated with cognitive decline and depression, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association.

However, physicians sometimes don’t recognize addiction in their patients or fail to recognize the potential for addiction, which may lead to potentially addictive drugs being prescribed for people who have a history of addiction or who have a high risk for addiction. 

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“Physicians who work in a fee-for-service system and are traditionally paid by procedure are pressed for time, and too often write prescriptions in the interest of time management without knowing the necessary behavioral health background of a patient,” James Huysman, a psychologist and a senior clinical consultant at the Hanley Center, a drug and alcohol treatment center owned by Caron Treatment Centers, tells the WSJ.

As a result, experts in senior care are working to spread awareness of the problem, advocating how health care workers can recognize the signs of addiction and how they can integrate addiction services into medical clinics. 

Other nationwide campaigns have sought to end the use of ineffective or unnecessary medications, such as antipsychotic drugs, with some senior housing communities finding that they’re saving millions by weaning residents off these meds. 

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Although experts in the senior living, geriatric care and addiction fields are working to raise awareness of the issue, addressing the problem largely falls on the shoulders of health care workers who treat the seniors. 

“Unfortunately, it’s much easier to take a pill than to exercise or routinely train health care workers to properly treat the pain, anxiety and insomnia often experienced by older adults,” Oslin tells the WSJ.

Written by Emily Study

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