A growing problem that has rapidly gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic is prescription drug abuse among the Baby Boomers.

Over half the people in the U.S. aged 60-85 take 5 or more medications. Many elderly people juggle as many as 18 prescriptions at a time!

The Overprescription of Drugs to Elderly Patients

Some elderly become victims of the overprescribing of medications . There's been many alarming exposés of corruption in the medical field generally driven by Big Pharma encouraging doctors to overprescribe.

Prescription Drug Abuse as An Escape

Seniors gradually abuse their medications to change the way they feel. Many of the elderly want to escape feelings like loneliness, pain, fear and despair. For elderly people, losing their loved ones, loneliness, and age discrimination are all emotionally harrowing.

Given the challenges that come with getting old, it’s easy to imagine why a Baby Boomer with a medicine cabinet full of medications might be tempted to take more pills than prescribed.

What Addictive Drugs are Frequently Abused by Baby Boomers?

Many boomers have health conditions such as sciatica that cause chronic pain. Also, they undergo more surgeries and are prone to accidents such as falling. These conditions/pain events are treated with opiate painkillers which are highly addictive.

Opioid drugs include:
• Hydrocodone
• Ultracet
• Percocet
• Roxicodone
• Codeine
• Vicodin

Other habit-forming medications overprescribed to Baby Boomers are benzos, used to treat insomnia (a common problem among older adults), anxiety and panic attacks. Benzodiazepines include:

• Xanax
• Ativan
• Halcion
• Librium
• Valium
• Tranxene
• Flurazepam
• Serax
• Restoril
• Klonopin

Even the milder versions of the above drugs on both lists are addictive, yet commonly prescribed. It is very easy to overdose if one takes more than the recommended dosage, misses a dose and then doubles up, or mixes the medication with another substance such as alcohol.

Even when taken as prescribed a patient can become dependent on any of the above pharmaceuticals. Doctors normally wean a patient off the above drugs by gradually lowering dosage to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

The only three drugs that can cause death from withdrawal are
• Opioids
• Benzodiazepines
• Alcohol

Any combination of the above 3 categories of drugs is extremely dangerous.

How Can I Tell if My Parent is Addicted to Prescription Drugs?

Unfortunately, many symptoms such as confusion, forgetfulness and changing sleep patterns could be mistaken for normal signs of aging. Other signs and symptoms to look for include:
• Changes in mood
• Irritability
• Slurred speech
• Taking more than prescribed
• Multiple prescriptions of the same drug
• Seeing more than one doctor for the same condition

You know your parent better than most. If they seem impaired, find out what prescription drugs they’re using. Checking out what pharmaceuticals doctors have your elderly loved one on may save their life.

Avoid Double Dosing With Multiple Prescriptions

No matter what age somebody is it is very hard to remember and keep track of what you took when you have multiple prescriptions.

One good way to do so is to buy a compartmentalized drug organizer, with days and times listed on the compartments. You can help your loved one fill these at set times, maybe twice monthly for a two-week supply.

They may need to be changed if a doctor changes a prescription, but this should be relatively easy to do by just taking the old dosage out of the compartments, putting the new dose in, and then disposing of the medication that isn’t being used any more.

When your mom or dad goes to the doctor, they can easily show the doctor what prescriptions they’re on because they will keep all their pill bottles in one place to access at set times when they (and you) fill the organizer(s).
The National Institute on Aging has provided a printable worksheet where one can keep track of all prescription medications.


Too often pharmaceutical drugs, even when prescribed by doctors, do more harm than good. This is especially true in for victims of pharmaceutical cascade, where a doctor mistakes the side effects of a drug for another illness and responds by prescribing more drugs. While this could be entirely by accident, it can and has actually killed elderly patients who trust their doctors’ judgments without question.

There’s a grass-roots movement among physicians and patients called Deprescribing. Their goal is to move towards prescribing less pharmaceuticals. For more information, check out the website by clicking the link above.

Getting More Help

If you or somebody you love has developed a substance use disorder, there are many options to get help. It is extremely dangerous to quit taking pharmaceutical drugs cold turkey. Medical detox with a team of Clinicians who can monitor for adverse withdrawal symptoms and keep the patient as comfortable as possible is the only safe option.
After detoxing, there are many more options for ongoing support. Contact a counselor trained in substance use disorders to help you gauge the severity and make a plan for professional help.

Author's Bio: 

Mike Williams Hurst is a California native who has worked in the recovery field for over fifteen years. He is active in 12-Step programs and is a frequent contributor to the blog at Las Olas Recovery.