The Miami Herald
April 14--Dr. Barbara Krantz has a message for those who care for an elderly mom, dad, grandparent or friend: Falls, depression and insomnia should not be so easily dismissed as signs of getting older.
"Those are things that can be attributed to the physiological cause of aging but, if caregivers are aware, it can also be prescription drug abuse or interaction. All of a sudden mom is getting more and more forgetful. It could be her medication. It doesn't have to be her brain,'' said Krantz, medical director for the Hanley Center, a West Palm Beach-based addiction treatment and recovery center.
Senior adult admissions in centers like Hanley for prescription drug abuse have increased 450 percent since 2000 and unintentional overdose is the second leading injury-related cause of death among seniors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The problem is particularly acute among the elderly.
"Most people in their 70s and 80s average seven or eight medications and have a hard time handling these," said Dr. Daniel Varon, associate medical director for the Wien Center for Alzheimer's and Memory Disorders at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach.
Nationwide, one person died every 19 minutes of prescription drug overdoses, about 27,000 in 2011, reports the CDC. The bump represents an increase from 2008, when one or more prescription drugs were responsible for about 20,000 deaths. That year, opiate pain relievers like Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet accounted for 14,800 of those deaths, an almost fourfold increase from 1999.
About half of the prescription painkiller deaths involved at least one other drug, including anti-anxiety medications such as the popular Xanax.
Sales of prescription drugs have tripled from 2000 to 2009. Pharmacies dispensed 111 tons of opioid pain relievers, the category that includes oxycodone and hydrocodone, in 2010. It was the equivalent of giving every man, woman and child in the United States 40 five-milligram Percocets and 24 five-milligram Vicodins.
Many of those pills go to the elderly, who often suffer from memory loss, mild cognitive impairment or the more debilitating Alzheimer's. The result is that the elderly patient can tend to double up on a dose, mix incompatible medications or forget to take a medication altogether. The recipe is a cocktail for disaster.