Senior Citizens: The Silent Generation’s Victims of the Opioid Epidemic

Senior man sleeping with opioids.

Apparently, the silent generation has lived up to their name in more ways than one. Not only was this the generation that worked hard, kept to themselves and stayed quiet, but this is also the generation that to this day is staying quiet about the fact that they are being doped up on highly addictive and mind-altering opioid pain reliever pharmaceutical drugs.

And the silent generation isn’t the only one that has been the effect of opioid pain relievers and has not said much of anything about it. The baby boomers are in the same boat too. Our nation has about twenty-eight million residents from the silent generation and about seventy-five million baby boomers, according to Knoema. This comprises about one-third of our nation’s population.

Sadly, our elderly folks are one of the most overlooked age groups to suffer from the 21st-century drug addiction epidemic.

Statistics on the Overmedication of Seniors

Many different medication pills.

While opioid misuse statistics have declined among young people from 2002 to 2014, opioid misuse statistics among the elderly have almost doubled in that same period. This information was researched by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Earlier this year, the Senate Special Committee on Aging finally convened a special hearing to discuss the growth rate of opioid misuse among the senior population. According to speaker Senator Robert P. Casey Jr., Democrat Pennsylvania, “Older Americans are among those unseen in this epidemic. In 2016, one in three people with a Medicare prescription drug plan received an opioid prescription. This puts baby boomers and our oldest generation at great risk.”

“Overall, one in three older Americans with Medicare drug coverage are prescribed opioid painkillers…”

According to William B. Stauffer, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Recovery Organizations Alliance in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, “Overall, one in three older Americans with Medicare drug coverage are prescribed opioid painkillers. However, while Medicare pays for opioid painkillers, Medicare does not pay for drug and alcohol treatment in most instances.”

He further states, “Older adults are at high risk for medication misuse due to conditions like pain, sleep disorders/insomnia, and anxiety that commonly occurs in this population.”

According to a The Fix article on the opioid epidemic among seniors, half a million seniors received “high amounts of opioids” thanks to their Medicare Part D plans. About twenty percent of them ended up falling prey to some form of addiction or misuse habit with those opioids.

One study found that up to 11 percent of women over the age of 60 misuse prescription medications. The combination of alcohol and medication misuse has been estimated to affect up to 19 percent of older Americans.

Another Senator, Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, also spoke at the Senate Special Committee on Aging. She commented on how opioids increased the risk for falls. “Older adults taking opioids are also four to five times more likely to fall than those taking nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs,” she said. Here again, we have another vicious cycle in opioid use, where taking opioids can lead to falls, falls lead to pain, pain leads to more opioids, more opioids lead to more falls, and so on.

Rehabilitation and Treatment When Seniors Become Addicted

Helping senior—holding hands.

Our first mission needs to be raising awareness of the fact that not only are our seniors being highly overmedicated, but they are also falling prey to physical and psychological dependencies to their opioid medications. When an elderly family member or loved one becomes addicted to their meds, our job as their family members and loved ones must be to help them get off of those drugs. We have to help them get into and through a treatment center and out the other side clean and sober. No one deserves to live out their golden years as an addict.

Medication Advisors for Seniors

We should also consider becoming medication advisors for our seniors. Senior citizens often don’t know what is best for their health, and they are often confused by the medical terminology that doctors use. They also come from a generation where doctors were revered as the ultimate health and wellness authority. On top of that, the elderly often have many different medical conditions and their doctors do not always know exactly how to treat them all. Unfortunately, we seem to live in a society where we are more inclined to over-medicate than we are to under-medicate and that needs to change.

In opting to be medication advisors for our elderly family members and loved ones, we can go with them to doctor’s appointments and we can act as a force of reason and a voice of truth in making sure that our elderly loved ones are not put on highly addictive opioid pain relievers.

Ensure that Seniors are Aware of Alternatives

Happy granddaughter with her grandmother.

Last but not least, we need to make sure that our seniors know what alternatives they have. Opioid pain relievers are not the only recourse seniors have if they want to address their physical pain conditions. There are also holistic alternatives to pain relief, like chiropractic care, massage therapy, physical therapy, etc. Including supplements like Capsaicin, Boswellia, Valerian Root, Cat’s Claw, White Willow Bark, magnesium, turmeric, and ginger into one’s diet can also reduce pain levels, as such supplements have natural pain-relieving properties without the addictive risk factor of opioids.

Our elderly population must not be silent any longer on the opioid addiction crisis that they face. This is the most unknown sector of the drug epidemic. We are right in addressing all the other aspects of drug addiction across the other age groups, but we need to address this crisis among the elderly as well. We can’t leave them behind.


Reviewed and Edited by Claire Pinelli ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.