Survey: Seniors Concerned That Taking Opioids Can Lead to Addiction

PARSIPPANY, N.J. — Much attention has been focused on the risks of opioids for younger adults; but the use of opioids among older Americans should also be raising alarms.

According to a new survey of people ages 50 and older, nearly 60% of respondents are personally concerned that taking opioids can lead to addiction and dependence. Despite these concerns, some of their actions may actually increase opioid-related risks. About one-third of those prescribed opioids keep unused pills in their home, making them available for diversion or misuse. In fact, survey respondents admitted to misusing these medications with nearly 40% using leftover opioids for conditions the drugs were not initially prescribed to treat.

In 2017, nearly 25 Americans over the age of 55 lost their lives each day to an opioid overdose. The aging population is particularly vulnerable to the side effects of opioids, including long-term use and abuse. In fact, 70% of survey respondents agree that opioids are being overprescribed and six in 10 are specifically concerned that their peers are taking too many of these drugs.

The new data, titled Seniors & Opioids: A Choices Matter Survey, was conducted in partnership with Reader’s Digest among 1,239 adults ages 50 and older during a two-week period in April 2019.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one in three Medicare Part D beneficiaries has received an opioid prescription, with some receiving what is considered extreme amounts of opioids – an average daily morphine equivalence greater than 240 mg for 12 months.  Additionally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that opioid misuse doubled among Americans ages 50 and older over twelve years and Medicare beneficiaries are now the fastest growing population with diagnosed opioid use disorders.

“Earlier this year, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) surveyed more than 200 partner organizations that serve the aging population and our findings further support those of the Choices Matter Survey. In fact, we found that 81% of those organizations agree their clients have little knowledge of safe and affordable alternatives to opioids,” said Kathleen Cameron, Senior Director of NCOA and a pharmacist. “NCOA research also uncovered that while 70% of these organizations have had to increase their efforts to address the opioid epidemic, less than 28% routinely screen vulnerable aging clients for opioid abuse or dependency. NCOA believes resources need to be invested in educating our aging population and those who serve older adults, in order to reach those at-risk before they become dependent on opioids.”