Opioid poisoning often only start of seniors’ problems
Most opioid poisonings among seniors are accidental and B.C.’s seniors advocate says their related hospital stays are longer and more serious than other age groups.
A Canadian Institute for Health Information survey released on Thursday found that from April 1, 2016, to March 31, 2017, 63 per cent of opioid poisonings among seniors age 65 and older were accidental.
Earlier reports from the institute showed seniors had the highest rate of opioid poisonings in B.C., although they have now slipped to second place, after adults ages 45 to 64.
B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie said the statistics are still alarming. “Not only is the rate one of the highest for seniors, but the rate of hospitalization is longer,” Mackenzie said.
Seniors remain in hospital 74 per cent longer than other age groups, creating a large cost to the health-care system and usually leading to an overall decline in patients’ health.
“Hospital stays for seniors in their 80s and 90s are notorious for deconditioning, and some people never really get back to baseline,” Mackenzie said.
Opioids prescribed to seniors are mainly given for pain relief. Accidental poisonings can result when seniors are on a number of drugs at one time, or suffer from macular degeneration — which can affect their sight when reading dosage — or from general confusion.
Seniors’ low metabolic rate can also play a role, meaning the drugs can have a more powerful effect.
“There’s a whole array of things, including being in and out of hospital and changing medications, and [having] different people involved in administering the medications — they all compound to create these issues,” Mackenzie said.
A report by the office of the seniors advocate in 2016 showed almost half of seniors receiving home care were on nine or more medications and were having problems managing them, Mackenzie said. “So you can see how mistakes happen,” she added.
The problem is further hampered by a reduction in home-support care hours for seniors over 75, Mackenzie said.
The majority of people in all age groups do not die from opioid poisonings, Mackenzie said. Instead, they are hospitalized.
“I think people relate overdose to death [when], in fact, the majority who overdose live.
“The issue of opioid overdose is about more than the person on the east side of Vancouver being attended to by paramedics,” Mackenzie said. “The majority of opioid overdoses are people going to the hospital. When it comes to seniors, we know the cost is significant.”
Mackenzie said if more was done to prevent accidental opioid overdoses in seniors, savings to the health-care system could be redirected into finding a way to reduce the overdose crisis among illicit drug users.
C.E. Harnett. © Copyright Times Colonist
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