Seniors with Chronic Pain and Mental Illness at High Risk for Overdoses Caused by Deadly Drug Combinations, says Study

Drugs & Alcohol - Most Recent - News
Written by: on 28th November, 2017

Older adults diagnosed with chronic pain and mental health disorders are at significantly higher risk for suffering opioid overdoses than those who just suffer pain, says a new study. Those diagnosed with pain and mental illness are more likely to take painkillers and benzodiazepines at the same time — a deadly drug combination that can lead to an instant overdose. This new evidence could help lower the opioid overdose death toll among the older American population.

A Look at Pain and Mental Health Among Medicaid Patients

The new study published in American Journal of Psychiatry examined clinical diagnoses and prescriptions for over 13,000 senior adults in the Medicaid program within a recent six-year period. All patients had died from opioid overdoses — 60 percent of whom were clinically diagnosed with chronic pain. Of those who were diagnosed with chronic pain and prescribed opioids, over 52 percent were also prescribed benzodiazepines for depression and anxiety disorders within the last year before death.

Researchers who led the study found that the majority of these Medicaid patients were not diagnosed with opioid use disorder in the year prior to their death. Furthermore, doctors failed to take into account the risks of prescribing opioids and benzodiazepines at the same time. Evidence from the study reveals that many of these overdose deaths could have been prevented with a combination of behavioral therapy for drug use disorders and safer prescribing methods by doctors.

Opioids and Benzodiazepines: A Deadly Combination

Deadly Drug Combinations

Seniors diagnosed with chronic pain often struggle with co-occurring mental illnesses.

Opioids and benzodiazepines produce similar effects of sedation and relaxation, though each drug interacts with different receptors throughout the brain and body. Benzodiazepines have been found to enhance the effects of opioids by slowing breathing down even further and magnifying feelings of sedation. Those who use this deadly drug combination can stop breathing or fall asleep and slip into a coma — increasing the risk for brain damage and death.

How to Use Prescription Drugs Safely

Research shows that roughly half of all people with drug use disorders also suffer from mental illnesses, and vice versa. If you or a loved one is using opioids along with drugs used to treat a mental health disorder, talk to your doctor immediately about the risks involved, and about safer treatment alternatives.

Here are tips that can help you stay safe from deadly drug combinations:

  • Keep your doctors informed about all the prescription drugs you’re currently taking to avoid using deadly combinations that can lead to an overdose or other health problems.
  • Inform your doctor if you have a history of addiction to avoid the onset of drug use disorders involving opioids and/or benzodiazepines.
  • Confirm whether the medications you’re taking are safe to use long-term, and ask about tapering schedules to lower the risk for drug dependence and addiction.
  • Avoid using other people’s medications to lower the risk for dependence, addiction, overdose, and other health risks.

Prescription drug addiction can be safely treated at an addiction treatment center using detox and therapy. If you or someone you love needs help overcoming drug dependence, call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 800-483-2193(Who Answers?) to speak with a caring drug abuse counselor about your many available treatment options.