Opioids and Older Adults

Lately, we have been hearing a lot about the national crisis in opioid addiction, overdose and treatment. What kind of person do you picture when you hear about someone addicted to opioids? How old do you imagine them to be? What do they do for a living? How much money do they make? Where do they live?

Odds are you didn’t picture an older adult.

But in Indiana, nearly 7,000 Medicare recipients are estimated to have an opioid use disorder. That’s more than 0.6% of Indiana’s total 1.15 million Medicare beneficiaries in 2015.

And in 2014, adults aged 55 and older represented 18.6% of Indiana’s 1,150 drug overdose deaths.

Older adults may become addicted as the result of their higher rate of polypharmacy which makes it difficult to appropriately manage all medications, including opiate pain killers. The aging process itself also affects how people react to and manage opiates, making older adults more susceptible to addiction. As the Baby Boomers age, their histories of illicit drug use and more relaxed attitudes toward substance use may also play a role. Younger addicts are also aging into systems of care for older adults.

Treating opioid addiction is challenging, costly and complex. As Indiana grapples with its opioid addiction crisis, and public policy, health care and social services adapt, we need to ensure that these systems take into account the special needs of older adults. For these reasons, IAAAA is following the opioid crisis conversations at the Statehouse and encourages all advocates for older adults to do the same!