As the body ages, it often aches. In the United States, 81 percent of adults over 65 endure multiple chronic conditions such as arthritis, hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes. There also can be emotional pain from the loss of relatives and close friends, and concerns about the continued ability to live independently.
For those whose physical ailments prove almost paralyzing and chronic, health providers often prescribe opioid painkillers, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. But that can lead to trouble. Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid crisis a public-health emergency. The department has spent almost $900 million on treatment services and other initiatives, but still more and more Americans are dying of overdoses on opioids—in the forms of prescription pain pills, heroin, or synthetic drugs. While older adults are not the age group most affected by the crisis, the population of older adults who misuse opioids is projected to double from 2004 to 2020.