Age Fearless: Opioid use on the rise among Medicare recipients

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- America's opioid crisis isn't limited to the younger generation, the medicare generation is caught up in it, too.

And older people may actually be more vulnerable.

The numbers are staggering - nearly a third of all Medicare recipients received prescriptions for opioid painkillers last year and many received at least 5 prescriptions or refills.

Older people have more chronic pain, so they get more of those powerful painkillers. But...

"There's a delicate balance between being appropriately medicated for pain, so that you're not suffering, and being over-medicated," said Dr. Don Liss of Independence Blue Cross.

Dr. Liss says seniors are especially vulnerable to opioid side effects.

First, they risk more drug interactions to begin with because they take more medications and some of those already carry risks of drowsiness or confusion.

"Adding a narcotic medication - an opioid, on top of that - may make them more prone to a fall and a serious injury," said Dr. Liss.

Because of slowing metabolism and kidney functions, it's easy for older people to develop an overdose.

So be on the watch for warning signs which include sleepiness, dizziness and nausea.

But there is one more serious side effect.

"Opioids have the effect of basically shutting down the bowel," said Dr. Liss.

Dr. Liss says opioids should be taken as directed.

New CDC guidelines also urge doctors to prescribe them for shorter terms from 3 to 7 days.

Also, consider over-the-counter painkillers or non-drug alternatives such as yoga or meditation and when the patient doesn't need opioids anymore, get rid of unused pills safely.

"Don't toss them in the trash, and don't flush it down the toilet," warns Dr. Liss.
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