The Opioid Epidemic’s Impact on Older Americans

When we consider the impact that opioids have on society, we often look at the epidemic from the perspective of those who are addicted. But a new survey by the National Council on Aging (NCOA) reveals that when it comes to older Americans, opioids are impacting them in a variety of ways.

“Some older adults are struggling with the personal tragedy of opioid addiction, while others are having to financially support their opioid-addicted children and even become caregivers for their grandchildren. This is hurting their health, draining their life savings, and destroying their financial security,” notes Anna Maria Chávez, NCOA Executive Vice President and Chief Growth Officer.

NCOA surveyed more than 200 community-based organizations from 40 states and Puerto Rico offering aging services. Of those that responded, 70 percent reported having to spend more effort on dealing with issues relating to the opioid epidemic affecting their older clients or their caregivers than they did two years ago. One in five reported having increased their efforts by more than 25 percent, while some have had to double their efforts.

Despite this increase in need for services, the survey found that only about a quarter of those organizations routinely screen for substance misuse and abuse among the older adults they serve.

It’s estimated that 30 percent of older adults struggle with chronic pain and 29 percent were prescribed an opioid medication in the last two years. If used over time, this can result not only in dependency, but also in the need for increased amounts of the drug to achieve the same pain relief.

Many older adults who use opioids lack an understanding and access to alternative medications to reduce pain and face challenges in obtaining needed prescriptions or refills because of increased scrutiny. Others report having difficulty managing the side effects of opioids with other medications they are taking.

Organizations serving older adults report that 80 percent say they have had their pain medication stolen by family members or others who either use it themselves or sell it, while 63 percent said they have used their life savings to pay for drug rehabilitation for themselves or their adult children. And, 49 percent reported concerns about the increased cost of opioid pain medication to manage their own pain because the medications are not as readily available.

Earlier surveys have found that opioid-related hospitalizations for adults aged 65 and older have increased by 34 percent and emergency department visits skyrocketed by 75 percent between 2010 and 2015. These hospitalizations can be the result of everything from an unintentional overdose, to physical impairments leading to injuries.

Some of the more common opioids used to treat pain in older adults include morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl and tramadol. Testing is the first step toward treatment. Contact us today for more information at or call 888-655-0508.

The information provided is a guide and not meant to be a substitute for professional advice.

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