1) 55 million prescriptions for opioid pain killers were written for people 65 and over in 2013. This is a 20% increase over the previous 5 years.
2) In 2012, 336,000 seniors were misusing or dependent upon prescription pain relievers. This is up from 132,000 10 years earlier.
3) The rate of overdose deaths among people 55 and older tripled between 1999 and 2010.
Here’s how it happens. You are in your 40’s or 50’s, and sometimes earlier, and you begin to have some back pain. Your insurance dictates that you must see your primary care physician (PCP) so you dutifully make an appointment. He prescribes Ibuprofen of Naprosyn or some other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. One of two things happens. Either it helps the pain or it doesn’t. Both are bad:
…if it helps reduce your pain this means that you are chemically blocking the pain from travelling from the damaged joint in your spine to your brain. You do not feel the damage. This allows you to go out and cause more damage. In the end the cause of the pain, mechanical joint damage, gets worse.
…if it doesn’t help the pain you go back to the same doctor that gave you your first drug and he prescribes a stronger one. Again, either it helps the pain or it doesn’t, and the above cycle continues.
Eventually, assuming you believe USA Today, your chances of being addicted to pain killers when you get to your senior years is very real. And your chances of dying from that addiction has tripled since the last 90’s.
“Come on doc, it’s just a little bit of pain. It’s just an Advil. It’s not that serious. You’re so dramatic.” Perhaps you might be right. But then again, you might not be. I for one will not take that chance. As I like to say the amount of joint cartilage you have right now is the most you ever will. It’s not going to get better on its own. I write and talk about my own health issues quite a bit because I know me better than I know any of the thousands of patients I have treated. I have been disabled three times from my lower back, once at the age of 10 (that is not a typo), in 2000, and in 2009. I know back pain from all sides. I know disability. And if I didn’t have my education and experience I could have easily been sucked into the medication vortex that spirals down, down, down…
Instead I use my weekly adjustments and more when necessary, my daily disc-pump exercises, my intermittent deep tissue therapy, and my hiking program to manage the damage.
55 million prescriptions is a big number, and that’s just to the 65 and older crowd. The problem with prevention is you never know when you have prevented something, because it never happened. But each person you and I save from that addiction nightmare, or each person you and I try to save from that addiction nightmare, is something that we can be immensely proud of.