By Dr. Mercola
The picture of a drug addict in your head is probably not one of a grey-haired grandmother or grandfather, a middle-aged professional or a soon-to-be retiree.
But the face of drug addiction in the United States is changing, and a significant number of older adults, particularly those in the baby boomer generation, are struggling with both illicit and prescription drug abuse …
Conventional Medicine Turning Seniors Into Drug Addicts
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has reported that the number of people in their 50s who are abusing illicit drugs more than doubled from 2002 to 2010, going from 2.7 to 5.8 percent in this population. Among those 65 and older, 414,000 used illicit drugs in 2010.1
One reason for this, NIH suggested, is that baby boomers were more likely to use illicit drugs in their youth, which may make the drugs seem more acceptable now. This certainly appears to be the case … but it doesn't help that in many cases their physicians are the ones doing the "dealing."
You see, the illicit drugs mentioned by the NIH are not only the "street" drugs that the name implies. This category also includes prescription medications, abuse of which has become so severe among seniors that the NIH has devoted a new section of its Web site to address its effects.2
Among seniors, the risks of all medications are increased, because the body takes longer to break down and get rid of the drug than it does in a younger person. As a result, the drug stays in an older person's system longer, where it can cause even greater damage.
The most commonly abused prescription medications among seniors, along with their risks, include: 3
Morphine, codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl all fall into this category. These drugs are not only addictive, they can lead to slowed breathing and death if too much is taken.
Used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders, medications such as Valium, Xanax, Ambien, and Sonata are also addictive, and cause side effects like confusion, drowsiness and impaired coordination. This can be especially risky among seniors, as it increases the risk of accidents and falls. Further, if these drugs are combined with alcohol or pain medications, the results can be deadly.
These include drugs such as Ritalin, Concerta and Adderall (the latter of which actually contains amphetamine, known and sold on the street as "speed" or "crank"), which are often used to teat ADHD, narcolepsy and even sometimes depression. Along with being highly addictive, stimulants sometimes lead to feelings of hostility and paranoia, along with risks like irregular heartbeat, heart failure and seizures.
When a stimulant is combined with another medication, such as an over-the-counter cold medicine that contains a decongestant, it can cause dangerously high blood pressure or irregular heart rhythms.
Medications to Treat Normal "Aging" Cost More Than Costs of Most Chronic Disease
In a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA), it was revealed that spending for medications to treat conditions associated with normal aging, such as mental alertness, sexual dysfunction, menopause, aging skin and hair loss, tallies up to more than the costs of treating most chronic diseases!4
Use of such drugs jumped 18.5 percent, while costs increased close to 46 percent, from 2006 to 2011. Among those on Medicare (ages 65 and up), usage increased 32 percent.
In 2011, the study found, costs for these drugs ranked third in annual prescription-drug costs among commercially insured individuals, which was surpassed only by costs of treating diabetes and high cholesterol! If only more people realized that they could improve their mental abilities, sexual dysfunction, symptoms of menopause and more using healthy foods instead of drugs, the outcome of the study would be much different, as would, likely, their health …
More Prescription Drugs Typically Mean More Health Risks
According to statistics from the Kaiser Health Foundation, seniors aged 65 and older fill, on average, 28 prescriptions per year.5 There's no doubt that the United States has been manipulated into becoming a "polypharmacy nation." The word 'polypharmacy' simply means "many drugs," but refers to instances where an individual is taking too many drugs -- either because more drugs are prescribed than are clinically indicated, or when the sheer number of pills simply becomes a burden for the patient.
Many Americans are being impacted by polypharmacy, with unforeseen effects on their health – and this is now, before a new era of government-sponsored healthcare is likely to be ushered in, making drugs even more accessible and promoted as the only legally sanctioned treatment option; or worse, mandatory, as is already the case for certain types of pediatric cancers "requiring" chemotherapy be used, or compulsory flu vaccines during a state or federally declared health emergency.
More medication is often viewed as a strategy to improve health, but those taking the most prescription drugs are at the greatest risks from adverse drug reactions, some of which can be worse than the disease they're intended to treat, and which cause a downward spiral of additional prescriptions being given in order to "treat" the original drug-induced symptoms.
On average, if you take one prescription drug you'll be exposed to 70 potential side effects. Some of the more commonly prescribed drugs average around 100 side effects each -- and some drugs even carry over 500! If you multiply this by multiple drugs, and then factor in the unforeseen effects of taking multiple drugs at one time, the health risks are astronomical. Dr. Michael Stern, a specialist in geriatric emergency medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, told the New York Times:6
"Polypharmacy is responsible for up to 28 percent of hospital admissions and, if it were classified as such, it would be the fifth leading cause of death in the United States."
In a study released last year by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), officials emphasized that people should assume there IS risk in prescribed medicines.7 And, for the first time, deaths from properly prescribed drugs even outnumber traffic fatalities in the United States …
Teens Getting High From Drugs in Mom and Dad's Medicine Cabinet
In another study presented at the annual meeting of The American Public Health Association, 10 percent of 7th to 12th graders surveyed said they had abused over-the-counter medications, such as cough syrups containing Dextromethorphan (DXM) and decongestants, to get high.8
This is yet another concerning trend, as teens will even go so far as to mix a variety of prescription pills together in a bowl at a party and take a mouthful of them like candy! The kids think this is a safe way to get high, since they see their parents taking the same medications all the time, but it often turns out to be a literal prescription for disaster, the side effects of which include permanent disability and death.
What many fail to realize, whether a senior or a teen, is that prescription drugs can be just as addictive and deadly as illegal drugs. The painkiller Fentanyl, for instance, is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine.
Also, in many cases there's no difference between a street drug and a prescription drug. For example, hydrocodone, a prescription opiate, is synthetic heroin. It's indistinguishable from any other heroine as far as your brain and body is concerned. So, if you're hooked on hydrocodone, you are in fact a good-old-fashioned heroin addict.
With teens, the problem is that prescription and over-the-counter drugs do not have the same stigma as illegal drugs, plus they're easier to access because their parents take them … and even if you take the recreational aspect out of it, the average child aged 18 and under in the United States still takes more than four prescription drugs a year!9
You Can Feel Great Without Drugs
…In fact, many report feeling better than they have in years once they're able to wean off of their medications (which is something you should do only under the guidance of your health care practitioner). Staying well naturally, without the use of drugs or even frequent conventional medical care, is not only possible, it may be the most successful strategy you can employ to increase your longevity. If you adhere to a healthy lifestyle, you most likely will never need medications in the first place.
- Proper Food Choices: For a comprehensive guide on which foods to eat and which to avoid, see my nutrition plan. Generally speaking, you should focus your diet on whole, unprocessed foods (organic vegetables, grass-fed meats, raw dairy, nuts, and so forth) that come from healthy, sustainable, local sources, such as a small organic farm not far from your home.
For the best nutrition and health benefits, you will want to eat a good portion of your food raw. Personally, I aim to eat about 75 percent of my food raw, including raw eggs and humanely raised pastured organic animal products that have not been raised on a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation).
Nearly as important as knowing which foods to eat more of is knowing which foods to avoid, and topping the list is fructose. When consumed in excess, sugar acts as a toxin and drives multiple disease processes in your body, not the least of which is insulin resistance, a major cause of accelerated aging.
- Comprehensive Exercise Program, including High-Intensity Exercise like Peak Fitness: Even if you're eating the healthiest diet in the world, you still need to exercise to reach the highest levels of health, and you need to be exercising effectively, which means including not only core-strengthening exercises, strength training, and stretching but also high-intensity activities into your rotation. High-intensity interval-type training boosts human growth hormone (HGH) production, which is essential for optimal health, strength and vigor.
I've discussed the importance of Peak Fitness for your health on numerous occasions, so for more information, please review this previous article.
- Stress Reduction and a Positive Attitude: You cannot be optimally healthy if you avoid addressing the emotional component of your health and longevity, as your emotional state plays a role in nearly every physical disease -- from heart disease and depression, to arthritis and cancer.
Effective coping mechanisms are a major longevity-promoting factor in part because stress has a direct impact on inflammation, which in turn underlies many of the chronic diseases that kill people prematurely every day. The Emotional Freedom Technique, meditation, prayer, social support and exercise are all viable options that can help you maintain emotional and mental equilibrium.
- Proper Sun Exposure to Optimize Vitamin D: We have long known that it is best to get your vitamin D from sun exposure, and if at all possible, I strongly urge you to make sure you're getting out in the sun on a daily basis. There is preliminary evidence suggesting that oral vitamin D may not provide the identical benefits, although it's still better than none at all.
- Take High Quality Animal-Based Omega-3 Fats: Animal-based omega-3 fat is a strong factor in helping people live longer, and many experts believe that it is likely the predominant reason why the Japanese are the longest lived race on the planet.
- Avoid as Many Chemicals, Toxins, and Pollutants as Possible: This includes tossing out your toxic household cleaners, soaps, personal hygiene products, air fresheners, bug sprays, lawn pesticides, and insecticides, just to name a few, and replacing them with non-toxic alternatives.
- Avoid Prescription Drugs. Do your homework. You can start on this site by using the search engine at the top of every page, which links to previous articles we have written over the past 15 years. Just type in the name of the drug or condition you are taking it for, and you will likely come up with dozens if not hundreds of pages of information that will help you develop a strategy to stop using the drugs by changing your lifestyle to take control of your health