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Home » Uncategorized » Prescription opioid safety among older adults

Prescription opioid safety among older adults


by Piper Coalson, Unified Prevention Coalition

This article is part of the Unified Prevention Coalition for Doña Ana County’s bi-monthly guest column in the Las Cruces Sun-News. Visit their site to learn more.

Saturday, June 13, 2020; Las Cruces, NM – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin and synthetics opioids that are available legally by prescription. When taken properly, prescription opioids, also known as prescription painkillers, safely treat moderate to severe pain.

More people die accidentally from opioid overdose than all other drugs. The CDC ranked New Mexico eighth-highest in overdose-related deaths in 2015, but ranking dropped to 21st in 2019.

Even with this positive momentum, CDC reports found an increase in opioid-related overdose deaths in those ages 65 and older. There are several factors contributing to opioid overdoses among the aging population.

“Patients over the age of 65 are often prescribed multiple medications and are more likely to be prescribed high doses of opioid medication,” said Athena Huckaby, community outreach coordinator with Ideal Option, a local low-barrier medication-assisted treatment clinic. “It can also be difficult for their population to keep track of the frequency and dosage at which they take their medication. Lastly, there is a lack of awareness of opioids and the risks associated with taking high doses of opioids and combining opioids with other classes of medication.”

According to the New Mexico Community Data Collaborative, in 2018 approximately 34,500 Doña Ana County residents were 65 years of age or older. 

Because one in three Doña Ana County families have grandparents living with children, there is an increased risk of opioids falling into the wrong hands to be misused, such as an accidental poisoning or overdose.

This real possibility of youth access to opioids guided the Unified Prevention Coalition for Doña Ana County to target opioid prevention efforts toward community members who are 60 years or older, as well as parents.

There are critical steps anyone can take to prevent opioid and prescription medication misuse in the home.

First, sharing is NOT caring. Do not take medication that was not prescribed specifically for you. Do not share your prescription medications with family or friends. Only your prescriber knows what medication is best for you.

Secure all medications with a lockbox or lock bag at home and when traveling. Prescription opioids should be stored in a container that has a lock and key or combination. It is easier to identify theft and tampering on a locked container than a pill bottle. 

Also, opioids can negatively affect the environment, costing taxpayer dollars, if not disposed of properly. Do not toss in the trash, flush down the toilet or crush medications. To safely dispose of medication, use a drug deactivation kit or take your medication to a permanent drug disposal box location.

According to the CDC, senior adults are prescribed more medication than any other age group at 85 percent. Know that your prescriber wants and expects you to ask questions about your medication. Consider taking notes on what is being prescribed so that you can check the prescription received for accuracy. Read all medication labels and information sheets carefully. Finally, if you have any questions about a medication, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

In New Mexico, it is now law that co-prescriptions of opioid overdose-reversal medication must be provided for any opioid prescription that lasts 5 days or more. Naloxone is a safe “rescue drug” that reverses and blocks the effects of opioids and saves lives in tandem with medical intervention. 

“It is important to have Naloxone on hand. It is equally important that patients, family members and caregivers know how to use it so that if there is an emergency they are prepared,” said Nai Walter, Doña Ana County Health and Human Services Overdose Prevention Coordinator.   

In addition to these safety tips, Amy Buesing, a local pharmacist and UP! Coalition member, suggests keeping a current medication list with you at all times. Medication lists should be updated regularly and include prescription medications, over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements. Your medication list is vital to prescribers who do not treat you regularly, such as during emergency medical service or being seen in urgent care medical facilities.

For more information on all of these topics and resources please download the “Keeping Families Safe From Prescription Painkillers” handbook developed by the UP! Coalition. Available in English and Spanish.

For more information, contact Alyssa Myrick at 575-597-0024 or email

This news release is made available by the Unified Prevention (UP!) Coalition for Doña Ana County, a program of the Center for Health Innovation.