Lisa Conway – Hometown News

Q: I keep hearing about the opioid epidemic. Are seniors affected by it?

A: The opioid epidemic (or crisis) is the phrase for the overuse, misuse, abuse and overdose deaths attributed to the opioid class of powerful pain-relieving drugs. The opioid crisis does not discriminate.  It affects people of all ages, races, and socioeconomic classes.

How opioids work

Opioids increase chemicals in the brain called endorphins. Endorphins ease pain and trigger feelings of pleasure.  It is the stimulation of the “pleasure center” of the brain that often sets the stage for misuse, abuse –and addiction.

Opioids and seniors

4-9% of adults aged 65 or older use prescription opioids for pain relief. reports that while the U.S. population of adults 55 and older increased by about 6% between 2013-2015, the proportion of people in that age group seeking treatment for opioid use disorder increased nearly 54%.

According to Dr. Cary Reid, MD, PhD with the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, older adults are more susceptible to the serious side effects of opioid use. They often have multiple prescriptions and chronic diseases and are more likely to accidentally misuse opioids –increasing the risk of adverse interactions. A senior’s slower metabolism also means drugs stay in the system longer.

If your doctor suggests an opioid, ask:

  • Is there a non-opioid medication option?
  • Is this the lowest dose possible?
  • What side effects should I expect; how can I manage them?
  • How often will you see me to track my progress?
  • Will the opioid interact with my other medications?
  • How will this drug affect my daily activities—like driving?

As with any new medication you start, keep a log of side effects you may experience –and share them with your physician. There are good community resources, if you or the senior in your life needs help or answers about these highly addictive drugs. You can always start with a call to One Senior Place, at 321-751-6771.

One Senior Place is a marketplace for resources and provider of information, advice, care and on-site services for seniors and their families. Questions for this column are answered by professionals in nursing, social work, care management and in-home care. Send questions to or visit One Senior Place, The Experts in Aging at OneSeniorPlace.comLisa Conway is a Registered Nurse and a Certified Care Manager for Senior Partner Care Services, Viera.