Preventing Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse in Elderly Care

elderly care

June is National Safety Month

The National Safety Council divides the month into weekly focus areas.  The first week's topic is "Preventing Prescription Drug Abuse."  This is an issue for elderly care clients as it is for any other segment of the population.  In this article we discuss some background, reasons, and prevention ideas.

Did you know:

  • Individuals age 65 and older account for over 1/3 of all prescriptions, yet they represent only 13% (1/8) of the overall population?
  • 83% of adults over 60 take at least 1 prescription and  almost half of all these individuals take 3 or more prescriptions?
  • Older women take an average of 5 prescription drugs, 1/2 of which are potentially addictive?
  • Over the counter drugs and the use of alcohol can interact to change the effects and results of some prescription medications?

These are amazing statistics in and of themselves.  What's more important is that misuse or abuse of prescription medications can lead to a greater risk of falls, motor vehicle accidents, and hospital admissions in elderly care clients.  All of these are contrary to our goal at Seniors Helping Seniors® of providing just enough elderly care to enable seniors to remain living independently in their own homes for as long as they would like to do so.

Which drugs can cause the most problems?

  • Opiates:  Usually used for pain relief.  These drugs can also lead to a sense of well-being (euphoria).  Commonly prescribed drugs of this class include:  Codeine (contained in Tylenol® #2, 3, 4) , OxyContin®, Percodan® , Percocet®, Darvon®, Dilaudid®, and Vicodin®
  • Central Nervous System Depressants:  Usually used to treat anxiety and sleep.  Examples:  Fioricet®,Nemutal®, Valium®, Librium®, Xanax®, Halcion®, ProSom®
  • Stimulants:  Used to treat narcolepsy and attention deficit disorder.  Examples:  Adderall®, Dexedrine®, Ritalin®, and Concerta®

So, what leads to problems of abuse and misuse?

  • Symptoms of drug abuse/misuse are often similar to other problems of elderly care, for example, memory loss, disorientation, lack of balance.
  • Elderly care patients often see multiple doctors who are not likely coordinating care closely.
  • Lack of information. Many seniors do not have access to enough information about drug misuse, abuse, and interactions.

Here are a few strategies to address these issues:

  1. When visiting the doctor bring along a list of all your medicines and dosages (how much you take and how often). Your doctor can make sure your medicines are right for you and make changes if necessary.
  2. Use only one pharmacy near your home.  Pharmacists are trained to look for drug interactions and potential problems.  They can alert you, your elderly care provider, or your doctor.
  3. Ask questions of your doctor or pharmacist.  Make sure you understand any potential side-effects or problems you may experience.
  4. Do NOT adjust your dosages without checking with your doctor first.
  5. Keep your medications in the labelled bottles they came in until as close as possible to the time you take them to avoid confusion.  Alternately, have a nurse or other professional place your medications into a weekly medication organizer box, one week at a time.
  6. Dispose of no longer needed medications promptly and properly.  Click here for proper disposal instructions.

Elderly care clients with dementia living on their own (or alone for some part of the day) can pose a particular challenge due to memory issues.  For these folks, consider an automated dispenser to be sure they are given only the right medications at the right time.  Click here for an example of one that we recommend and have a dementia client using successfully.

For more information, refer to the NIH Senior Health article,  Prescription and Illicit Drug Abuse.