Saturday July 16, 2016

By Abby Hutmacher


The amount of opioid prescriptions has been steadily rising over the past decade accounting for roughly one in every five non-cancer patients seeking help for medical conditions. Similarly, there has been a rise in opioid abuse nationwide with more than one-third of opioid abusers over the age of 65 (only 13 percent of population are seniors).

Opioid abuse is especially troubling among seniors because of the profound impact these narcotics can have on the body. One slip of the mind and a senior could double up on a dose and not wake up the next morning, or could be subject to more slips and falls as the result of opioids in the system. But, despite the glaring concerns about senior opioid dependency, doctors, pharmacists and family members rarely make the effort to reduce opioid consumption among patients – most drug abusers are thought to be young men, after all, not Grandma.

But opioid dependency among seniors is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. Because it is so easy for an older person to enter a doctor, list their ailments then walk out with a brand-new, high-dose prescription, it is especially easy for them to acquire multiple prescriptions from multiple doctors without a second thought. The results of which could include a high tolerance to the drug, a need for back-up pills “just in case” and an inability to function without them. Patients often take more than the recommended dose or mix it with other drugs and alcohol to achieve the desired relief.  

The worst part about senior opioid dependency, however, is that it can be deadly. When opioids are prescribed for chronic pain, the drug may be taken daily, perhaps multiple times each day, just to find relief from pain. Instead of rehabilitative measures, seniors are prescribed opioids -- which are intended to provide temporary relief – and essentially told to sink or swim. Abuse and dependency naturally follow.

Signs of Senior Opioid Abuse

The signs of senior opioid abuse are very similar to symptoms of chronic pain -- depression, lethargy, irritability and mood swings – but there are subtle signs that can indicate dependency or abuse in the elderly. For example, does the individual seem to be remorseful after taking his or her meds? Is he or she secretive about the needs and frequency of opioid consumption? Does the person have more than one medical doctor or pharmacist? Does he or she have a hard time keeping stories straight regarding the purpose of the prescription in the first place? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, your loved one may have an opioid dependency. If this is the case, it’s time for a serious talk about health concerns and possible alternatives to opioids.

Cannabis Can Help Curb the Opioid Epidemic

Some of the most common reasons seniors cite for seeking medical treatment are for chronic pain, fibromyalgia, headaches and arthritis – all of which can also be treated with cannabis. Not only that, cannabis can be used in conjunction with other medications to improve their efficiency and reduce the likelihood of developing a strong tolerance. This is excellent news for anyone suffering from chronic pain or sleep disturbances as it can reduce the amount of opioids needed to find relief without risking a dangerous drug combination. Whether needed for immediate relief or long-lasting relief, there are many cannabis products available to help reduce opioid dependency.

But perhaps the most promising benefit of cannabis use is its inability to cause a fatal overdose. According to Leaf Science, cannabinoid receptors (unlike opioid receptors) are not located in the area of the brain that controls respiration which could likely be the reason fatal cannabinoid overdoses don’t happen. Should a patient require more than the recommended dose of opioids, he or she can choose to supplement medication with cannabis to avoid a potentially life-threatening overdose.

Pain often accompanies aging, but it doesn’t have to be a constant. For those suffering from chronic pain, opioids are not the solution; they are only a temporary source of relief. Fortunately, cannabis can help treat chronic pain safely and effectively without the risk of a deadly overdose or other medical complications.

Do you use cannabis for pain? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

Photo credit: Flickr

Abby Hutmacher Abby Hutmacher

Abby is a writer and founder of Cannabis Content, a marketplace designed to connect cannabis writers and creatives with businesses in the industry. She has been a professional cannabis writer since 2014 and regularly contributes to publications such as PotGuide and M&F Talent. She is also the Content Director at Fortuna Hemp, America’s leading feminized hemp seed bank. Follow Abby on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.

Related Articles