A growing number of older adults are becoming addicted to opioid painkillers, The New York Times reports. They are using the pills to deal with the aches and pains of aging and the anxiety that can come with retirement.
“They’ve built a fortress around themselves,” said Joseph Garbely, Medical Director of Caron Treatment Centers. “Their resources allow them to advance in their addiction without detection. So the addiction progresses.” He notes that signs of addiction such as confusion, shaky hands and mood swings are often thought to be symptoms of aging.
It can be difficult to detox older adults from prescription drugs, Dr. Garbely said. “They have to be monitored and slowly withdrawn. Opioid withdrawal won’t kill you, but you’ll wish you were dead.”
After a lifetime of achievement, the loss of self-worth that may come with retirement may spark an addiction, said Brenda J. Iliff, Executive Director of Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Naples, Florida. She noted the lack of structure and accountability can also fuel addiction. Aches and pain, multiple prescription drugs and more drinking can be “the perfect storm,” she said.
Indra Cidambi, Medical Director at the Center for Network Therapy, an outpatient detox facility in Middlesex, New Jersey, notes that older people have a slower metabolism, which gives drugs a bigger effect. “By 10 days of usage, you can be addicted,” she said. “You don’t think of affluent, well-put-together women as addicts. But I see this happening constantly.”
In its early stages, addiction in an older person can be overlooked by caregivers and doctors, the article notes. “Few doctors screen for addiction,” said R. Corey Waller, Senior Medical Director for education and policy at the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers in New Jersey. “It’s not built into treatment yet, and adding that step takes lots of time. Also, patients are usually offended when asked.”