The Reality of Opioid Abuse

The Reality of Opioid Abuse

by Julianne Rizzo, owner of Oasis Senior Advisor Southwest Chicago

As people age, illnesses that cause severe pain are more likely to develop. One of the most effective ways to treat pain is with opioids, but it’s also the most dangerous. When a highly addictive substance is taken there’s a risk of overuse or abuse, much like what we saw in 2016 when more than 42,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose. Opioid overuse and abuse can happen to anyone, as I, a registered nurse, learned firsthand while caring for my mother. 

I became my mother’s healthcare power of attorney after her cancer diagnosis. I managed all doctor visits, chemotherapy appointments and medication. During a routine trip to the pharmacy for a Vicodin refill, the pharmacist took me aside and informed me that they could not fill the prescription as my mother had consumed 60 pills in 10 days. How did this happen on my watch?

I had the arduous task of telling my sickly mother that she had to wait 20 days until the next refill to get relief from her pain. The next few days were exceedingly difficult while mom was experiencing detox side effects from the opioids in addition to the pain of cancer treatment. Thankfully, by the time the 20 days came around my mother was able to manage her pain and only needed Tylenol for discomfort. Opioids were no longer needed, and she was released from their addictive grip. 

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. 

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), older adults are more susceptible to the effects of prescribed opioids. They have slower metabolisms, already have balance issues, and unintentional misuse can lead to taking prescriptions too often, as was my mother’s case. 

According to, In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies assured the medical community that patients would NOT become addicted to opioid pain relievers and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates. By 2017, the opioid epidemic was declared a public health emergency. 

Today, there are processes in place that restrict the over-prescribing of opioids. But prescription opioid addiction can lead to the use of other illegal opioids like heroin or fentanyl, due to their ease of access and low cost. This is a particular risk for seniors who are on a low or fixed income and become addicted.

I have seen how medication can heal, and how unintentionally someone can become addicted. If your loved one is prescribed Vicodin or other opioids for pain relief, consider a structured approach, helping them track and dispense that medication.  

Medication management is a critical service provided by many senior living communities and home health companies. If you would like more information on medication management options for your loved one, contact the Oasis Senior Advisor in your area today by visiting