Senior citizens are getting addicted to legal drugs at an alarming rate

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When Betty Van Amburgh began treatment last year for her addiction to prescription painkillers, she was told to bring along all her medication.

She arrived with a shopping bag — boxes of transdermal patches laced with fentanyl, a narcotic up to 100 times stronger than morphine; bottles of hydrocodone, another powerful opioid; packages of Xanax, an addictive sedative.

“They kept saying, ‘How did you get so much?’ ” recalls Van Amburgh, 68, who’d been on an increasingly potent mix of medications since a series of back surgeries 20 years earlier. “The doctors just kept prescribing them. It was always, ‘Do you have pain? Let me give you a prescription. …’ But I got addicted. I was a zombie.”

Hundreds of thousands of the nation’s seniors are misusing prescription drugs, spurred by a medical community that often is quick to offer narcotic painkillers, anxiety medications and other pharmaceuticals for everything from joint pain to depression. And despite a push by public health officials to slash dispensing rates, doctors are prescribing the highly addictive drugs at record levels.

By many measures — rising overdose deaths, a spike in emergency room visits, increasing admissions to addiction treatment programs — the toll on the senior community is enormous, a USA TODAY review of government data finds.

READ MORE via Older Americans hooked on Rx: ‘I was a zombie’.

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