Woman meeting with doctor

Older and middle-aged adults in the United States account for about 80 percent of those who experience chronic pain.1 Since the most common treatment for chronic pain is analgesics or pain relievers, older adults have been increasingly prescribed medications, including opioids, to manage this condition.

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) recently released an issue brief discussing the use of evidence-based programs to reduce chronic pain.

Highlights from the issue brief:

  • Thirty percent of Medicare Part D beneficiaries had an opioid prescription in 2016
  • Of those older adults prescribed opioids, 500,000 were prescribed high amounts of opioids
  • 90,000 Medicare beneficiaries were at a high risk of opioid addiction due to high prescriptions of opioids
  • Older adults are at an increased risk for opioid overuse and misuse due to having more prescriptions and utilizing more over the counter medications
  • The 65 and older population are also at a higher risk for medication-related side effects from opioids, including dizziness, confusion and respiratory depression.  Due to these side effects, those who take opioids are at a higher risk of falling than those that take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin
  • Between the year 2000 and 2015, there was a 640 percent rise in opioid-related deaths for those between the ages of 55 and 74, demonstrating a rise in suicidal thoughts for individuals on opioids
  • Opioid use can also lead to illegal drug use, with eighty percent of heroin users in the U.S. indicating they first misused prescription medications

For more information, access the NCOA issue brief here.

In addition, NCOA also released a presentation that covered opioid usage among older adults. According to the presentation, the following are at a higher risk of long-term opioid use:

  • Women
  • Poor health
  • Chronic/new back pain
  • Mental health issues
  • Older age
  • Low income

For more information, access the NCOA presentation here.

Additional Opioid Resources [for older adults and caregivers]:

CDC Webinar: Non-opioid Treatments for Chronic Pain
The Opioid Epidemic: By the Numbers
Prescription Opioids: What You Need to Know
Pain: You Can Get Help
Role of Physical Activity in Managing Chronic Pain in Older Adults

Source:  Robinson, Kayin T., Bergeron, Caroline D., Mingo, Chivon A., Meng, Lu, Ahn, SangNam, Towne Jr., Samuel D., Ory, Marcia G., and Smith, Matthew L. “Factors Associated with Pain Frequency Among Adults with Chronic Conditions,” Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 54 (2017): Issue 5, 619–627.

Great Plains Quality Innovation Network is partnering with healthcare providers in our region to identify ways to avoid medication safety issues. We are offering education and tools to help individuals better manage and communicate medications prescribed as well as share updates on new guidelines and resources available. Learn more.