An initiative of The N.C. Center for Health & Wellness at UNC Asheville

The Opioid Menace: A nationwide addiction to opioids threatens older Americans

Explore this AARP special report on how addiction to painkillers has been impacting older Americans, from a description of the problem (doctors overprescribing pain pills without realizing the impact), to the epidemic (22,598 deaths in 2015 from prescription opioid overdoses), to ways to take action (questions to ask and how to help an addicted friend):

Americans over 50 are using narcotic pain pills in surprisingly high numbers, and many are becoming addicted. While media attention has focused on younger people buying illegal opioids on the black market, dependence can also start with a legitimate prescription from a doctor: A well-meant treatment for knee surgery or chronic back troubles is often the path to a deadly outcome.

Consider these numbers:

• Almost one-third of all Medicare patients — nearly 12 million people — were prescribed opioid painkillers by their physicians in 2015.

• That same year, 2.7 million Americans over age 50 abused painkillers, meaning they took them for reasons or in amounts beyond what their doctors prescribed.

• The hospitalization rate due to opioid abuse has quintupled for those 65 and older in the past two decades.