Opioids Raise Fall Risk
There is certainly no doubt that you’ve heard something about the terrible epidemic of opioids that is sweeping the nation, ruining and costing so many lives in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported that more than 136 people die every day from an overdose of opioid medications, such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, and codeine. The surprisingly high death toll of opioids has even caused the average life expectancy to drop by over a year compared to what it once was at its highest point.
Most of the media attention this epidemic receives is focused on the younger users, the ones who use and abuse these medications after purchasing them on the streets. But in fact, many older adults abuse opioid medications as well. And even more often, they don’t buy them illegally, but their addiction began through a legitimate prescription.
Not long ago, the prevailing idea was that seniors who used legitimately prescribed opioids to treat pain. That turned out to be entirely false. Now the emphasis is on what is called “de-prescribing”, which means doctors and other care providers are carefully evaluating the reality of whether or not a patient needs a particular drug. This has the unfortunate side effect of making those patients who do truly need the drug for legitimate purposes encounter difficulty and resistance in obtaining them. For the experts, this is a delicate balancing act. The close supervision of a doctor can help to make sure that these drugs are used as part of an effective pain control strategy.
The fact is that opioids, even when used properly, can cause severe health problems for older adults, such as liver and kidney damage. Additionally, studies have shown that these drugs can also be a major risk factor for dangerous falls in senior citizens. A study published by the Canadian Medical Journal looked at the records of seniors who were admitted to the hospital due to falls, and found that patients who had filled a prescription for opioids in the previous two weeks before their fall were 2.4 more times more likely to have suffered a fall injury. Even more worrisome, those patients who had falls linked to opioid use were also much more likely to die during their hospital stay.
A different study on opioids in older adults found that seniors taking opioids are five times more likely than other seniors to fracture a bone. The risk of a debilitating hip fracture, specifically, was found to be doubled. Other studies have shown the connection between the use of opioids and head injuries. People using opioids are also more likely to be involved in a car crash, which is certainly a common cause of head injuries and bone fractures.
Opioid medications, when prescribed by a doctor and taken as directed, can definitely be part of an effective pain management regimen. But for those seniors who are prescribed opioids, it is advised to discuss alternatives with your doctor, such as different medications, or treatments such as physical therapy. It is also important to manage your medications carefully, taking them only as prescribed, and making sure to keep them under supervision and dispose of unwanted medications.