A growing number of seniors on painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs through Medicare's prescription drug program are at a risk of drug dependency,a USA Today report said.
An analysis of Federal data revealed that the number of seniors aged 65 and above taking prescription painkillers via Medicaresaw a 30 percent increase to 8.5 million from 2007 to 2012. Use of habit-forming painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone also shot up by as much as 50 percent in the age group, the data showed.
The Feds data also found that the supply of narcotics received by each patient has grown by 15 percent over a three-month period on average.
These figures mean that one out of five of America's 43 million seniors receive Medicare prescriptions for pain management and are left on these drugs longer.
As for anti-anxiety medications, the number of senior Medicare beneficiaries getting prescriptions for alprazolam, busipirone and lorazepam soared by 25 percent to 700,000. In 2012, a Medicare patient had access to five months' worth of anti-anxiety drugs, which translates to 10 percent more than data from 2007.
As of press time, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (NYSE:CMS)did not issue any comment on the matter and denied request for an interview. CMS issued a statement, however, noting that the organization has implemented severe measures on drugs misuse and prevention.
"Medicare takes instances of prescription drug misuse very seriously and recently put in place aggressive new rules that take further steps to prevent drug abuse and over utilization," the statement said.
Seniors are at risk of dependency because they are physically vulnerable to the effects of prescription drugs, apart from having wider access to them, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) noted on its website. "Aging makes the body more vulnerable to drugs' effect," NCADD said.
Life stressors also push seniors to turn to drugs, not to mention, alcohol. "Aging and retirement lead to enormous emotional challenges," Carol Egan, author and elderly alcohol and substance abuse specialist, told The Colorado Springs Independent.
"Many elders struggle to find a sense of purpose. Many are mourning the loss of spouses and friends. A little alcohol and maybe some over-the-counter medications, and you have a potentially dangerous situation," she added.
Experts suggest that seniors taking opioids and anti-anxiety drugs should be monitored closely, especially when they were ordered by their attending physicians to take such medications longer. Brady Grainer, COO of BioCorRx Inc. (OTC: BICX), an addiction program development company recognized nationally for its Start Fresh Program, emphasized the importance of doing so.
"It should go without saying, but any demographic of the population should be monitored closely if they are prescribed opioids or other addictive medicines for a prolong period of time. As it is commonly known, the longer someone takes an addictive substance the greater the chance they will become dependent on it." Granier said.
BioCorRx, Inc.'s Start Fresh Program utilizes a biodegradable implant formulation of Naltrexone, an opioid antagonist that blocks the brain's pleasure feelings to prevent addicts' cravings. A study conducted by the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) found that apart from acamprosate, naltrexone is a highly effective form of pharmacotherapy for alcohol use disorders and for reducing drinking frequency when addicts relapsed.
NCADD said people aged 65 and above take prescription and over-the-counter drugs the most among age groups in the United States.