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The Risk of an Opioid Overdose Increases With Age

July 01, 2016

Addiction to prescription painkillers is a growing epidemic in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sales of opioids nearly quadrupled between 1999 and 2014, and over the same period of time, overdose deaths have similarly increased.

While anyone who abuses prescription painkillers is at risk of an overdose, the CDC found that about half of the deaths caused by drug overdoses in 2013 and 2014 were people aged 45 to 64. The most recent high-profile example of this was Prince, who died of an accidental overdose of fentanyl, a powerful opiate. He was 57.

According to experts, one of the most dangerous scenarios that can cause such a high number of deaths in that age range is the increased likelihood of a high tolerance. If you sustained some kind of injury earlier in life and were prescribed painkillers to deal with the constant pain, over time, your tolerance will increase.

If the pain persists, a medical professional may choose to increase your dosage to counteract your rising tolerance in order to keep the pain at a manageable level. If the person who is taking opioids to deal with the pain switches to a different kind of painkiller, they may accidentally take the wrong dosage of their new medication. Their body may not be prepared to handle that high of a dose of the new painkillers, which can lead to an accidental overdose.

Another unfortunately common cause of accidental overdoses comes from mixing medications. In most cases, this occurs when mixing opioids with benzodiazepines, an anti-anxiety medication. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, people in their mid-40s to their mid-60s are the most likely group to be prescribed both opioids and benzodiazepines.

According to medical professionals, both benzodiazepines and opioids depress the body’s drive to breathe, and when the two medications are combined, the effects increase exponentially. People in that age range are also more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions that cause respiratory issues, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which only increases the risk that someone who is overmedicating may stop breathing altogether.

Part of the issue behind the dangerous increase in the sales of prescription painkillers across the country is the fact that there’s no comprehensive policy on when medical professionals should prescribe opioids to patients. Even more concerning is the fact that several states have reported issues with high volume, for-profit pain clinics known as “pill mills” that prescribe large quantities of opioids.

Addiction is difficult to deal with on your own; luckily, you don’t have to. At Turning Point, we work hard to help our patients cope with their addiction, as well as help them develop the necessary coping mechanisms and tools they will need to manage the difficulties they may face in their daily lives. Check out our website for more information on the services we provide, or contact us today to begin your road to recovery.

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