I have been an RN for 27 years. For 25 years of my career, I have worked with older adults, mostly ages 80 and up. During my years of caregiving, I have seen the number of opioids that I deliver to our assisted-living residents on a daily basis increase by a 10-fold. (And I'm not kidding!)
Vicodin and Percocet seem to be the drugs that are very popular with this generation of residents. many older adults, in my experience, become dependent upon these drugs without fully understanding what is happening. Sometimes I feel that it is an innocent addiction; as we age and arthritis worsens and personal loss surrounds us. It has become habit for patients to ask their doctors for the strongest thing they can have to help take the pain away.
But what unfolds in front of us is a transition into a downward spiral. I have noticed older adults' personalities literally l change when on these drugs for more than a very short time; demands become unrealistic, family members feel distant and frustrated in their communication. My observation is that the older person taking narcotics routinely tends to stay more to him or herself; they lose interest in daily living. They start watching the clock to see when the next dose may be coming.
In my experience, many health care providers feel that, because we are dealing with the old, they should have anything they want. Addiction, it often seems, isn't even be a consideration.
But it should be. Of course, no person, old or young should be in chronic pain. But there are non-narcotic options that have been hidden from us by big pharma; in much the way that cigarettes were marketed for decades.1
According to medpagetoday.com, medical cannabis can reduce many symptoms and reduce opioid use in older adults by one-third. I can't help but think...what if they never started opioids to begin with?
Amy McDonald is a graduate of the University of Missouri Sinclair School Nursing. She also earned a BA in Media Communications from Truman State University, Kirksville and a MS in Social Gerontology from University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg.