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Opioid-Related Complications Sending More Seniors to Hospital


By Jonathan Block

September 24, 2018

Opioid-Related Complications Sending More Seniors to Hospital

Despite efforts to reduce the use of prescription opioids, a significant number of seniors continue to take them, and an increasing number of seniors are landing in the hospital because of opioid-related complications.

Between 2010 and 2015, the number of emergency room (ER) visits among seniors related to taking opioids more than doubled, while hospitalizations increased by 54%, according to a new report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). In 2015, there were more than 124,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 ER visits as a result of complications from opioids.

Researchers said that as seniors tend to be prescribed more drugs than younger adults, they are more susceptible not only to adverse events from opioids themselves because of body changes, but from the opioids interacting with other medications. Many seniors also have mental health issues, cognitive decline and dementia that, compounded with taking opioids, puts them at increased risk for adverse events such as falls or delirium that can lead to a hospital visit.

An associated AHRQ report found that between 2015 and 2016, about 20% of seniors – around 10 million – filled at least one opioid prescription and 7% – about 4 million – received four or more.

AHRQ Center for Evidence and Practice Director Arlene Bierman, MD, who worked on the first report, told HealthDay that healthcare providers can address the situation by using non-opioid pain medications or even non-drug treatments before opioids. And if opioids are deemed necessary, the lowest possible dose should be prescribed.

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Last updated: September 24, 2018