Editor: Last week in Leesburg, Senator Tim Kaine led an important Senate Field Hearing: “Fighting Opioid Misuse and Abuse Among Older Americans” convened by the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging.
Unfortunately, most of the focus was on opioid abuse by younger Americans. We older Americans have a different story to tell.
Back in the 1960s, when Grace Slick sang “one pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small,” her incantation to us was “feed your head, feed your head.” And America’s youth engaged in recreational use of a great many drugs, including the opioid known as heroin.
Now, 50 years later as a senior citizen diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy, I take a class-one drug to feed my feet. It partially alleviates the chronic pain caused by the neuropathy. But I also have health issues for which I am prescribed drugs to feed my heart, feed my blood sugar, feed my gastro-intestinal system, and feed my prostate.
I use my personal example to illustrate an important point. Most of America’s aging population do not begin use of opioids recreationally. We are prescribed these drugs by our doctors to deal with urgent and chronic medical issues. We’re not sticking needles in our arms and ODing; we are quietly suffering the consequences of prescribed opioid use that causes negative impact on our health, and more and more, we are quietly dying from the multiple complications of opioid use. Not only have my senior friends have been hauled off in ambulances from these complications, they have also suffered loss of vitality, increased mental impairment, and loss of quality of life.
The effects of opioid drugs on older Americans occur in broken bones from falls, organ failures from long term use, auto accidents or house fires caused by mental impairment. But these are quiet problems that do not reach newspaper front pages or explode on social media. However, they are strongly connected to the prescription of a drug by a most trusted source, the doctor.
It is crucial to discuss and debate the consequences of opioid drug misuse that I have described. Please remember that among senior citizens, the initial misuse is often unintentional. I urge that we focus on this aspect of uninformed opioid misuse by senior citizens. Our motivation in using these drugs is not to “feed our heads.” It is to age in place, living meaningfully lives while using prescription drugs to maximize our health and productivity in American society.
I appreciate and support Senator Kaine’s very important efforts to deal with elder opioid abuse and misuse. I am keeping members of my senior community in Loudoun County informed about his efforts on our behalf. Let the discussion on this urgent issue in Loudoun continue.
Matthew Gallelli, Bluemont