Survey shows opioid epidemic causing problems for people over 65

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala - It's being called one of the untold stories of the opioid epidemic. A new survey conducted from the National Council on Aging (NCOA) showed opioids are eroding the quality of life of older adults.

Doctor Zaheer Kahn is a geriatrician. He said just like our skin, the rest of our organs, our kidneys, heart, brain, they all age.

"At the age of 65, you have lost already about 30% of your normal function so when you take these medicines that are cleared in the brain, the brain is is very sensitive to these medications," he said.

And in addition to causing confusion, cognitive issues can even increase the chance of falling, it can make people in this age group more susceptible to addiction.

"It is more common in the elderly than in the younger population," he said.

NCOA said problems for seniors don't stop at medical issues related to the opioid epidemic.

NCOA recently surveyed 200 community-based organizations in 40 states and Puerto Rico. Kathleen Cameron with NCOA said they learned that over the past two years more seniors have needed more help.

"Needing greater access to public benefits whether its federal state or local benefits to help give them deal with the financial issues they may be experiencing," Cameron said.

Those issues could be paying for treatment, for themselves or an adult child, or raising their grandchildren as a result of the opioid epidemic.

"And we're seeing it particularly in rural states where we see really high rates of prescribing for opioids," Cameron said.

Now more than ever, she said it's time to tell this side of the story. The NCOA wants to make sure the voices of older adults are heard during discussions on strategies to fight the opioid epidemic.

She said the needs of that important group is often left out of the conversation.

In addition to releasing the survey results, the NCOA also has recommendations to help the older population. Those include offering older adults alternatives to managing chronic pain and educating older adults about public benefits and legal options.

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