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


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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