The Addiction Risks of Prescribing Psychotropic Drugs to Seniors

According to new research coming out of the University of Michigan, the number of seniors in America who take at least three prescribed psychotropic drugs has doubled over a nine-year period. This may seem like good news in one limited respect, as it means that seniors are more willing to seek help for their health conditions, but it also indicates an increased risk.

The Risks of Using Multiple Psychotropic Drugs

Psychotropic drugs include opioids, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and tranquilizers, each type of which are prescribed for very specific medical conditions. For many individuals, these medications seem absolutely essential in order to help them cope with certain, serious problems, like chronic pain or sleeplessness. However, any one of these medications has a high risk of abuse and addiction even when used on its own, as many of them affect the central nervous system. The risk posed by each of these medications when used on their own increases substantially when several of these medications are combined. And despite warnings from the Food and Drug Administration about the risks inherent in combining the use of opioids, antidepressants, and tranquilizers, there is a rising number of seniors who admit to doing exactly that.

Researchers from the University of Michigan and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System found that in the year 2004, only 0.6 percent of senior doctor visits involved three or more of these types of medications, but in 2013 this increased to 1.4 percent. While this increase is certainly cause for concern on its own, what is even more troubling is the fact that nearly half of these seniors were never formally diagnosed with a mental health condition, a pain condition or insomnia, which is what these medications are usually prescribed for. Instead, they received prescriptions for these medications based on their complaints about their condition.

Without a full examination and a clear diagnosis of a medical condition, seniors may be receiving prescriptions for one or more psychotropic drugs that they don’t actually need, which means that they are needlessly suffering the various risks and side effects that come with taking these medications.

The research indicated that there was, even more, risk of psychotropic drug combinations occurring among seniors who live in rural areas of the country. Researchers suspect that part of the reason for this may be that there is less access to specialized care in these areas, so primary care doctors without a lot of resources are forced to do the best they can by prescribing these medications to suffering patients. Unfortunately, this implies that medication is taking the place of necessary medical care, thereby increasing a patient’s risks associated with taking these medications without an appropriately diagnosed condition. Additionally, there seems to be a greater complaint of chronic and severe pain among seniors living in rural areas than among seniors living in urban areas, which in turn contributes to more instances of disability and depression. Without easy accessibility to appropriate and affordable health services, these individuals have no choice but to rely upon whatever methods of treatment their primary care doctor is willing and able to provide them with.

Addressing the Issue

When any individual, including a senior, is suffering from a medical condition, they have the right to see a doctor who can not only fully assess and diagnosis this condition, but who can also offer multiple solutions that do not include the prescribing of psychotropic drugs. Taking the time to travel to and pay for the appropriate specialist can be well worth it, especially when you take into consideration the financial, physical and mental toll of taking psychotropic drugs. In the rare case that a senior’s condition is fully diagnosed and the prescribing doctor insists that psychotropic drugs are the only solution, the individual absolutely has the right to seek out a second opinion. At the very least, they need to discuss with their doctor any medications they are prescribed, with the intention of reducing and eventually stopping these medications and preventing over-medication that can lead to addiction and other risks.

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