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150 S. Wacker, Ste 2400, Chicago, IL 60606
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The NSPA Blog

Drug Abuse Among the Elderly

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The Opiod Epidemic is bad – and getting worse – but it’s not the only drug problem this country has

Prescription drug use in America is out of control.

That’s not to say that I’m anti-medication by any means. Prescription drugs can literally be lifesavers, when prescribed and taken properly. For way too many seniors, though, long term dependence on benzodiazepines is causing dangerous side effects. Dizziness, falls, and confusion are among the most common concerns. Pair in opiods, and the combination of long term use can be deadly. A recent New York Times article demonstrates just how problematic these drugs can be for seniors, especially when paired with opiods.

It’s all in the numbers

According to the CDC, in 1999 there were 63 benzodiazepine related deaths among American seniors. In 2015, there were 431. 2/3 of those deaths also involved opiods. Research shows this problem primarily effects women. Moreover, almost 10 percent of seniors are taking benzodiazepines, and at higher and higher doses. Just like with alcohol, the more benzodiazepines that someone takes, the more tolerant they become. So, doses get increased and it becomes harder and harder to stop taking them.

Why don’t doctors stop prescribing both?

This is an issue that goes way past prescription drug use. It’s reflective of our fractured system of care. Doctors don’t talk to each other, and remembering to tell each doctor every drug you take can be a difficult task. So, if an older woman sees a psychiatrist for anxiety and they prescribe Klonopin, she may not remember to tell her primary doc the next she sees them. If she’s fallen or undergone recent surgery, she might get prescribed a painkiller like Vicodin. Mixing drugs like this are bad, but it happens all the time in today’s healthcare landscape.

What does your RN patient advocate propose you do?

One of the most valuable things I’ve seen that NShore Patient Advocates do for their patients is set up medical profiles for all our clients. We take the time to get to know our clients, then work up a full profile on the medical history. This includes an up to date list of all medications our clients take. When we go with them to see a new doctor, or even to the ER when needed, we have their profile in hand ready to share with the doctor. The purpose of this is to improve communication between patients and providers. Medical error is still the 3rd leading cause of death in America. We can help prevent this. If you think you could use a medical profile, give us a call and let us know what we can do for you!



With over 36 years of clinical experience in Critical Care nursing, home based health care and expertise as a cardiovascular nurse clinician, Teri is well acquainted with the complexities of the modern healthcare system. She has served as a nursing leader, mentor, educator, and consistent patient advocate throughout her career in some of the best hospitals across the country. Her passion to keep the patient at the center of the model of nursing care led her to incorporate NShore Patient Advocates, LLC in 2011, serving clients throughout the northern suburbs of Chicago.

For a no-cost 30 minute initial consultation, please call 847-612-6684 or click here to fill out our online callback request form.