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North Oakland Now: Protecting seniors from prescription drug perils and substance abuse

on September 22, 2009

You have to look as far as New Zealand to find another country where drug companies can advertise products directly to patients. In the United States’ less regulated pharmaceutical market, patients can struggle to sort out competing claims about various drugs. And with Americans over 65 taking 34 percent of all prescription drugs, senior citizens are among the individuals most vulnerable drug-related complications. Poisoning is the fastest growing cause of accidental death among seniors, particularly from overdoses of over-the-counter and prescription medication.

Making matters worse, one in eight women and one in six men among the over-60 set drink in excess of National Institute of Alcohol Abuse limits. This alcohol consumption can be particularly dangerous in combination with prescription medication.

Here in Oakland, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors recently passed an initiative designed to address concerns about prescription drugs and substance abuse among senior citizens. The Board-sponsored Alameda County Eden Area Senior Alcohol and other Drug Prevention Initiative seeks to expand awareness and focus on prevention efforts, as well as work toward instituting laws and practices that reduce substance abuse among seniors. With Baby Boomers beginning to retire, the elderly population has been on the rise and is expected to keep growing. The Census Bureau estimates that the over-65 population in Alameda County will grow by up to 180 percent by 2030.

Drug companies have spent exponentially more on drug promotion since 1996, according to a study conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine. And the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), which is responsible for monitoring drug companies to ensure they don’t exaggerate drugs’ effectiveness or underplay side effects, has sent out far fewer warnings in the last 10 years despite the big increase in advertising. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this means many seniors are signing up to take drugs under false pretenses.

In supporting the Eden initiative, Alameda County supervisor Gail Steele advised seniors to “band together” to address these issues, as this generation of elderly people is the largest the country has ever seen.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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