News and articles from the Ohio Department of Aging.
Guest column by: Mark Hurst, M.D., Director, Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services
Ever heard the maxim, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?” That old adage still rings true today as individuals, families and communities continue to grapple with the fallout of an opioid epidemic that claims a life of one Ohioan every two hours.
On August 31, the world will come together to recognize International Overdose Awareness Day. It’s a time to get educated about prescription painkillers and other opioids, learn to recognize the risks and warning signs of abuse, safeguard medications, and acknowledge the intense grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have died or suffered permanent injury because of drug overdose. It’s also a time for individuals to take charge and prevent misuse and abuse before it starts.
Addiction can affect people of all ages; racial, ethnic, sexual and gender minorities; income classes and geographic areas. While it is true that illicit drug use generally declines as people age, older adults are by no means immune from the potentially deadly effects of an opioid use disorder. In fact, individuals aged 65 and older are among the groups most affected by this problem because they often use prescription opioids (powerful painkillers such as Oxycontin, Vicodin, Percocet, etc.) to cope with chronic pain, arthritis and surgical procedures.
While these medications certainly can be a valuable tool in treating pain, and improving quality of life in older adults, it’s worth noting that prolonged use of prescription opioids can carry serious health risks. In fact, nearly two-thirds of Ohioans who died from unintentional overdose had a prescription for a controlled substance within the past year. Beyond the threat of addiction and overdose, extended opioid use can also lead to breathing difficulties, cause confusion, trigger harmful drug interactions and place an individual at an increased risk of falls and other injuries.
Good medicine dictates that patients with pain should receive treatment that provides the greatest benefit. With that in mind, opioids should not be the first-line therapy for chronic pain outside of active cancer treatment, palliative care and end-of-life care. Evidence suggests that non-opioid treatments, including over-the-counter pain relievers (such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen) and nonpharmacological therapies (such as physical therapy, exercise and cognitive behavioral therapy) can provide relief to those suffering from chronic pain, and are much safer.
So what can older adults and their caregivers do to take charge and prevent addiction and overdose?
The number one thing we recommend is to talk to your health care provider about ways to manage pain that don’t involve prescription opioids. If, after weighing all options, you and your physician agree on a treatment plan that includes prescription painkillers, here are some other commonsense steps to prevent misuse, abuse and overdose:
While these steps are not a panacea, safely managing pain and preventing overdose deaths starts with YOU. As we pause August 31 to remember the nearly 5,000 individuals who died last year from unintentional overdoses, following these simple steps can greatly reduce the risk of accidental overdose and help you enjoy a healthy and productive life.
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Ohio Department of Aging