A Different Face of Addiction: Wrinkled


Last May’s settlement of a Justice Department case against Omnicare brings up an embarrassing and shameful side of medical care. The doping of seniors in long-term care.

“Doping” is the right word here. It’s done with a few different drugs, although this time it was narcotics. Omnicare paid $50 million in a civil penalty for “routinely dispensing controlled substances to residents of long-term facilities without a prescription signed by a licensed practitioner.”

The facilities were run and managed by Omnicare, “the nation’s leading provider of pharmaceutical care for seniors, serving on a daily basis an estimated 1.4 million residents of skilled nursing, assisted living and other healthcare facilities in 50 states and the District of Columbia.”

Why would they do this? It saves money.

And this follows a few years after the record setting fine ($1.42 billion) against Lilly for pushing their drug, Zyprexa for use in the elderly. It wasn’t approved for dementia or Alzheimer's, but their sales staff convinced doctors to prescribe it anyhow. It settled patients down. The drug turned out to be unsafe in this population, and it increases the risk of death.

So what’s the appeal besides money? Doped up seniors cause less trouble for staff. A narcotic or a drug that calms them down keeps things running smoothly. The temptation is to just assume any combative or excited behavior is a sign of dementia.

And who really cares if someone at 70+ gets addicted? Those sixty-five and older account for less than one percent of admissions to publicly funded addiction treatment (NIDA stats, 2008). But we know that addiction continues past this and the prevalence of alcoholism in the elderly is about 4%, with “problem drinking” much higher.

Prescription drug addiction is a real phenomenon. Seniors are as susceptible as anyone else. The difference seems to be that the medical community is much more willing to see an older person as either “not worth saving” or just ignore the problem altogether.

This needs to be stopped. Our aged shouldn’t be filed away or forgotten or doped up for our convenience.


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