Misuse of Prescribed Medication in Geriatric Care

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The misuse of prescribed medication is increasing with the growing population of the elderly. David Osli, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine highlights that the abuse of medications "is a rising problem in seniors as the baby-boom generation ages."

The Wall Street Journal reported that "many seniors develop addictions to prescription drugs". Experts suggest that the elderly may be addicted to medication that has little or unintentional effects because they have been on it for too long or were prescribed it with too high doses. A negative reaction to other medications may also be a cause for some to continue taking ineffective medication.

Dr. Oslin said that this problem is allowed to escalate as the "use and availability of highly addictive medications continues to rise, with very little recognition of the problem."

Not only are doctors not able to recognise the existence of such addiction, they also fail to consider the potential of addiction when prescribing medication. A report released by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) in 2004 illustrated that it is not uncommon for doctors to fail in identifying the signs of drug abuse and addiction since more than 40 percent of physicians do not enquire their patients about prescription drug abuse when taking medical history.

The chances for physicians to properly prescribe medication may be compromised due to time constraint. Psychologist and senior clinical consultant at the Hanley Center, a drug or alcohol addiction rehabilitation centre in the United States, said that physicians "... too often write prescriptions in the interest of time management without knowing the necessary behavioural health background of a patient."

It was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, in their "Time and the Patient-Physician Relationship" article, that shorter visits to the GP's office has been associated with increased rates of medication prescriptions.

It is particularly important to pay attention to opiates and anti-anxiety medications as there is a high potential for addiction, which can also threaten the patient's well-being when s/he is on them for too long. Anti-psychotic drugs are prescribed for patients to overcome delusions and hallucinations. However, these drugs contribute to serious side effects when used longer than 12 weeks. Patients on such medication can easily be confused, which may result in falls and broken bones.

Attempts to raise awareness about the said-dilemma have been carried out by experts in geriatric care and they appear to be promising. Seminars and lectures on the danger of inappropriate prescribing practices for older patients have been conducted to teach healthcare workers how to identify any sign of addiction.

Experts such as psychologist and senior clinical consultant at the Hanely Center Dr. James Huysman are trying to promote the integration of addiction services into medical clinics to help overcome this problem. The American Gerartrics Society is also playing a role in helping healthcare providers identify the medications that may be inappropriate for seniors. There are efforts in helping elder patients stop consuming drugs that are not effective.

Dr. Oslin admits that it is indeed challenging to train healthcare workers to "...properly treat the pain, anxiety, and insomnia... experienced by older adults". It is therefore much easier, unfortunately, to take a pill instead. It is risky when patients keep taking any drug even after they have long stopped being effective because the underlying root of the problem may be left untreated as patients seek for temporary relief.

The next time your parents or grandparents pop that pill into their mouth, make sure you monitor very closely for any sign of drug abuse. Elders are more vulnerable to becoming addicted to prescription medications because the body cannot process the drugs as efficiently as the younger person's. The likelihood of the elders suffering from various diseases diseases is also higher and this leaves them vulnerable to being prescribed some of the most addictive drugs in the pharmaceutical industry today. Any attempt to treat themselves with any prescribed drug, even for minor problems, may result in serious consequences.

Statistics published in the Wall Street Journal also revealed a staggering 121% increase in emergency room visits involving prescription medication misuse by senior Americans. It is also estimated that the number of senior adults who misuse prescription drugs will increase from 911,000 in 2001 to 2.7 million in 2020.

By Genevieve Tan Shu Thung

Copyright © 2014 Sandhya Maarga Holistic Living Resources
Holistic Living Annex (OCTOBER 2014)

2 Responses for “ Misuse of Prescribed Medication in Geriatric Care”

  1. Fran says:

    It's really good info. I've always found my grandmother always dependent on her medicine even though she was obviously fine!!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Didn't know this was a prob.. Will be watching out from now onwards. Thought it was just anxiety and stubbornness what my mom was having about medicine.


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