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Addiction Archive

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7 questions to ask when you’re given a prescription for an opioid

A discussion with your doctor may minimize your chance of becoming dependent on or addicted to these powerful painkillers.

Opioid misuse is now one of most important health problems in the United States, rivaling smoking as a cause of death. Although news reports tend to focus on an opioid crisis among the young, the opioid epidemic is increasingly affecting older people as well. In fact, the rates of hospitalization for opioid overdoses among Medicare recipients quintupled from 1993 through 2012. Although older people are still less likely than younger ones to become addicted or succumb to opioid overdoses, they are more likely to suffer side effects from extended opioid use, including memory and cognition problems and falls.

"Opioid use and pain management is something we deal with constantly," says Dr. Michael L. Barnett, assistant professor of health policy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. According to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly one-third of Medicare beneficiaries received at least one prescription for opioids in 2015, and those who did got an average of five such prescriptions or refills. Dr. Barnett and a team of his colleagues decided to investigate how Medicare recipients get opioid prescriptions in the first place.

Drinking — and binge drinking — growing more common among older women

Research we're watching

A new study from researchers at the National Institutes of Health indicates that the rate of drinking in general, and binge drinking in particular, is rising faster among women ages 60 or older than among their male contemporaries. When the researchers analyzed data from National Health Interview Surveys from 1997 through 2014, they found that the proportion of older women drinkers increased at a rate of 1.6% a year, compared with 0.7% for older men. Binge drinking — defined as imbibing four or more drinks within two hours — increased by 3.7% annually among older women, but held steady among older men. The results were reported online March 24, 2017, by Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The researchers speculated that baby boomers, who tended to drink more than earlier generations did in youth, have continued their habits as they've aged. Whatever the reason, the trend doesn't bode well for older women's health. Because of biological differences, at any level of alcohol consumption, women have a higher blood alcohol concentration than men, putting them at greater risk of cognitive impairment and falls. It's a good idea to limit alcohol consumption to seven drinks a week, with no more than three drinks at a sitting.

Binge drinking continues to rise — particularly among women and seniors

Data from several surveys indicate that the percentage of women who drink has been increasing for decades. The numerous health effects associated with alcohol consumption mean that women should be especially attentive to how much they drink.

Physicians and opioids: Part of the solution, but challenges ahead

As doctors acknowledge the role that they have played in the current opioid crisis, they, along with hospitals, medical schools, and other members of the medical community have worked to address the issue on several fronts, including instituting prescribing guidelines and offering continuing education to prescribers.

Treating pain after opioid addiction: A personal story

What happens when a person who was addicted to opiates is injured and needs pain medication? A doctor who is in recovery has firsthand experience.

Long-term use of opioids may depend on the doctor who prescribes them

Some doctors are more likely to prescribe opioids to their patients, and those patients are more likely to end up taking them long-term. It's crucial for consumers to educate themselves about the risks of taking opiates, and to consider alternatives if possible.

Teen drug use is down: Better parenting, or more smartphones?

Data from an annual survey show that use of illicit drugs among teenagers is in decline, and has been for some time. It’s possible that this can be partially attributed to the popularity of smartphones.

Parents: As more states legalize marijuana, here’s what you need to know and do

As marijuana becomes legal or is decriminalized in more states, teens are less likely to view its use as risky, so parents need to talk with their children about safety, especially if they use it themselves.

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