Medicine News

Research reveals link between opioid misuse among older people and higher suicide risk

A study led by researchers from the University at Albany revealed a concerning finding: Older adults who have a history of nonmedical prescription opioid use (NMPOU) are at a higher risk of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

The study, which included over 38 thousand adults, found that those who misused oxycodone, morphine, hydrocodone, or fentanyl were 71 percent more likely to have suicidal thoughts and more than 50 percent likely to have attempted to take their own life – with the percentages even higher for adults aged 50 and older.

“Older adults have some of the highest rates of suicide, and findings from this study highlight NMPOU as a potential risk factor for this outcome,” says lead author Keith Chan.

Older adults at greater risk

In the study, researchers noted that it was more dangerous to prescribe addictive medication to older adults, given that their history of substance abuse is often overlooked, especially when it comes to the opioid crisis. Even worse, no funding is given to tackle the issue, and adults and older adults are instead given more prescription pills, which only serves to fuel the crisis. (Related: America’s opioid epidemic is killing so many people that medical examiners can’t keep up with the body count)

Earlier studies have been made on the link between opioid misuse and suicidal ideation and attempts. A study published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry concluded that 25.4 percent of older adults who have misused their prescriptions in the past year were more likely to have had suicidal compulsions. Another study in the Annals of Family Medicine noted that around 10 percent of people who have been prescribed opioids developed new-onset depression after a month, with their risk increasing the longer they stay on their prescriptions.

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These studies and many others maintain a firm link between opioid prescription and its misuse with the deterioration of a person’s mental health.

Natural painkillers a potential solution

The source of the problem, according to former governor Peter Shumlin, was the willingness of many doctors and providers to hand out opiates “like candy.” His solution was a proposal to limit the number of painkillers allowed to be prescribed. While just a start, this does show that more people are beginning to understand what the root cause of the epidemic is.

People like Shumlin and Chan will recommend a limitation on the use of opiates, but this answer is lacking. As the opioid crisis continues, more older adults are going to become victims of this emergency. With a rising percentage of older adults being prescribed opioids, there’s no telling how many more people will fall victim to this epidemic – if it isn’t tackled properly.

The solution should be a way that gets rid of opioids altogether, such as by using natural painkillers. For example, tai chi – a Chinese mind-body exercise – has been shown to greatly benefit the cognitive functioning of older adults.

Natural painkillers are better than over-the-counter because they aren’t addictive and if used properly they don’t have adverse side effects. It is a far greater alternative to prescription medication. Policies that put band-aids over the crisis are going to fall short of solving the emergency. The real solution needs to get to the root of the problem: the opioids themselves. Turning to nature is the only viable option left.

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