Opioid Addiction and The Elderly: How Chronic Pain Relief Can Spiral Out of Control
New studies have revealed that overdoses from opioid painkillers are on the rise, especially among the elderly. As the ongoing opioid ‘epidemic’ continues to dominate the headlines, we look at the warning signs of opioid addiction and how to get the help you need.
Of all drugs, prescription painkiller addiction can be among the most difficult to detect and treat. Every bit as dangerous as heroin, opioid painkillers can lull users into a false sense of security as they’re most often prescribed by doctors and other medical professionals. Even if you have been prescribed a strong painkiller just one time, you could be at significant risk of developing a debilitating or even fatal opioid addiction. As it turns out, seniors are especially susceptible to this.
Opioid addiction has reached epidemic proportions in recent years. In 2015 there were about 22,000 overdose deaths from prescription painkillers in the US, up from 19,000 in 2014. While much of this sharp rise is attributed to the increased availability of illicit synthetic opioids, most overdoses still come from legally prescribed painkillers and are now even more prevalent than heroin overdose deaths.
Ironically, the medical systems that are prescribing prescription opioid painkillers are often ill-equipped to provide adequate care for those who become dependent, leading many to seek private opioid addiction treatment.
Worrying Trends in Prescription Painkiller Use
Recent studies have revealed a number of worrying trends. Not least, more people in the older age groups are becoming dependent and are overdosing on opioid painkillers. Doctors have become increasingly liberal when it comes to handing out opioid painkillers over the past two decades, especially to elderly people to help with age-related pain.
If you are in the 45-65 age group and need treatment for pain, you could be at serious risk of a prescription opioid addiction. Studies have found that even a single exposure to opioid painkillers in a medical care setting can significantly increase the chances of you forming a dependence. Indeed, if you are taking any strong painkillers, it could be time to assess your usage to ensure that it won’t become problematic down the road.
One of the greatest concerns is that doctors may be prescribing opioid painkillers too zealously. While their attentions are good – to help people maintain a reasonable quality of life while dealing with an injury or illness – the long-term effects can be catastrophic. A study published earlier this year found that the risk of addiction was 30 per cent higher among patients whose doctors prescribed opioid painkillers too liberally.
Though trends in the US have dominated the headlines in recent years, opioid painkiller addiction is a worldwide problem. While tough drug laws and enforcement have kept illegal drug use in Singapore to a minimum, prescription drug dependency remains a real and present danger for anyone who suffers serious injury illness or acute pain.
Opioid Abuse and Addiction in Singapore
One in 10 adults in Singapore is thought to suffer from chronic pain — more than half a million people. It also appears that opioid painkillers are being prescribed liberally. The per-capita consumption of opioids doubled in Singapore between 2005-2010, according to data gathered by the University of Wisconsin.
If you’re receiving treatment for injury or illness, it pays to be aware of any opioid painkillers that are being prescribed to you. Painkillers such as oxycodone and fentanyl, while very effective at relieving pain, are highly addictive and should only be taken if absolutely required.
If opioid painkillers are required, new guidelines in the prescription of strong painkillers issued in 2013 recommend that all doctors in Singapore present you with a set ‘opioid agreement’ that details the terms of your treatment and the drugs you will be prescribed.
If you are not provided with an opioid agreement, ask for one, and be sure to study it carefully. Most doctors will provide you with a manageable plan that keeps chances of addiction to a minimum while providing you with the pain relief you need, but you are under no obligation to sign the opioid agreement and can request alternatives if you wish.
If you do agree, there is usually a trial period of one or two months before the prescription is extended, followed by regular monitoring to make sure you are taking the right doses. It’s important to remember that opioid agreements are recommended practice and not required by law, so ultimately it’s up to you to make it known if you have concerns or issues with the painkillers prescribed to you.
Signs of Opioid Addiction
While heroin or opioid abuse can occur at any time of life, those aged 45 and over are quickly emerging as those most at risk of addiction. And while there is a certain legitimacy surrounding prescription opioids because they are legally produced and distributed, they are extremely similar to opiates like heroin in their effects, side effects and risks.
Chronic opioid use, particularly in older people, can lead to spiraling problems that can very often lead to death. If you take strong painkillers, or have done so recently, you could be in danger of addiction and may need treatment immediately.
Here are some of the common signs that you may be developing a problem:
- Asking for increased dosages from your doctor
- ‘Doctor shopping’ for medical professionals that will give you the highest dosage
- Inability to control or reduce use
- Attempting to obtain opioids from illegal sources
- Needing to consume more to get the same effect
- Withdrawal symptoms when you stop or reduce use (depression, nausea, muscle aches, insomnia)
- Problems at work and/or in your interactions with family and friends
If you are experiencing any of these problems, it may be time to get professional help.
Professional Rehab and Counselling for Prescription Drug Addiction
Withdrawal from any opiates, including opioids, can be severe and the sad fact is that the medical systems that prescribe opioid painkillers are often ill-equipped to help and treat those who become addicted.
Counselling and rehab at a quality treatment centre has been proven time and again to be the most effective way to recover from an opioid addiction with the minimum amount of discomfort. At The Cabin Singapore we offer the highest standards of counselling and physical therapy to help you beat your dependence and get you back on your feet. Contact us today to find out more about how we can help you.