By Paula Span, New York Times
If you’ve come to rely on opioids for chronic pain, as a growing proportion of older adults has, you may have noticed that the drugs are becoming more difficult to get.
Something had to be done, surely: More than 165,000 people died from overdoses from 1999 to 2014.
But recent restrictions on access to these painkillers are likely to disproportionately affect the elderly — despite the fact that abuse and misuse of these painkillers have historically been lower among older patients than younger ones.
Older patients are simply more apt to have chronic pain. Some of their doctors are going to get an earful when they suggest different medications or nonpharmacological alternatives, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended in new opioid guidelines in March.
Dr. Mary Lynn McPherson, a palliative care specialist and a professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, told me about a 78-year-old patient with “screaming pain from fibromyalgia” (which doesn’t respond to opioids anyway). McPherson urged her to undertake significant weight loss and begin regular aquatic therapy and stretching.
“Please, can’t you just give me Percocet?” she said. Her physician agreed to continue her prescription but, to the patient’s frustration, at a low dose.
“We do need to rein this in,” McPherson said of opioid use. Yet like many health care professionals, she’s worried about her patients’ suffering.
How do you balance the need to relieve pain against the possibility that potent, habituating drugs can…