Prescription drug abuse is a serious concern among the elderly. Studies reveal an increase in the number of suicides due to addiction in this demographic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “an estimated 10,189 older Americans (ages 60 and up) died from suicide in 2013.” It further added that while the highest suicide rate was among people between 45 to 64 years old at 19.1 percent, the suicide rate for people in the age group of 85 years and above was not far behind at 18.6 percent.
In a study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) titled, “Suicidal attempts by prescription drug overdose in the elderly: a study of 44 cases,” revealed that besides factors such as “psychosocial (especially depressive) and medical vulnerability,” prescription drugs abuse was the most important determinant of suicidal behavior among the elderly.
Chronic stress instrumental in self-poisoning acts
The study, conducted in 2006, reviewed cases of 44 individuals, aged 65 years and above who had been admitted in a busy general hospital for deliberate self-poisoning. Their medical and psychosocial behavior were then observed over a period of 3.5 years.
All but three cases were of drug overdose including benzodiazepines and analgesics, prescribed for the treatment of a chronic medical and/or psychiatric disorder. It was observed that women outnumbered men, 2.7 to 1. Remaining three patients had ingested a modest quantity of a detergent. “Chronic stress from the physical illness, social isolation, or tacit family conflict were common and seemed instrumental in the self-poisoning act,” stated the study.
As per the findings, nearly 70 percent attempted self-poisoning cases could be traced to a specific domestic stress such as health, financial issues, family conflict, which inculcated a feeling of guilt in them, thereby causing depression. Several of them attempted suicide due to the prevailing stress from chronic medical illnesses and medication. The observations further indicated that the overdose of drug was taken over a longer period of “low-grade stress from chronic symptoms or exacerbations of these, commonly pain or impaired mobility”.
Suicide attempts common in winters and during weekends
While the study observed that almost all the suicide attempts involved overdose of prescription drugs, majority of them were carried out around the weekend and during the winter. Since, most of these patients were suffering from medical or psychiatric ailments, overdosing on prescribed medication became the easiest method to attempt suicide. This further suggests that rise in prescription drug abuse among the elderly could be attributed to their easy availability, without any legal or social complications.
The study also highlighted that while nearly 80 percent of the patients had a clear history of chronic depression, few of them were receiving treatment at the time of their attempt. This brought an important fact to light that factors such as physical ill health, restricted movements, dependence on others, fear of being alone and psychiatric disorders such as depression, can act as triggers for suicide.
Road to recovery
The study drew attention towards the need to increase awareness about suicides and take initiative to curb the surging rate, especially among the older people.
According to the study, since elderly people do not admit to their depression which could be owing to their rigid beliefs, the condition remains undiagnosed and hence untreated in them. This further drives them towards suicide attempts. Therefore, while it is important to create awareness about diverse risk factors associated with old age, elderly people should also be kept under vigilance in terms of handling prescription drugs.
If you or your loved one is battling prescription drug abuse, it is important to seek immediate medical consultation from Prescription Drug Abuse Helpline of California. You can call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-738-2770 or chat online to know about the prescription drug rehab centers in California. Our representatives will guide you through the prescription drug addiction treatment in California and help you to get in touch with some of the best drug treatment centers in California.