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Older adults with functional impairments at risk of prescription drug misuse

Older adults with functional impairments may be at a higher risk of medical cannabis use, as well as prescription opioid and tranquilizer or sedative misuse, suggests new research published in the online edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"It is important to recognize that any psychoactive substance may be risky for this vulnerable population," said Benjamin Han, MD, lead author of the study from the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego. "Many older adults use these substances due to chronic pain, insomnia, or anxiety—conditions that can affect daily functioning. These symptoms can be challenging to manage, especially in the setting of multiple chronic conditions and other prescribed medications."

CDC defines functional impairment as difficulties performing daily activities, such as bathing or getting dressed, or problems with concentration or decision making affected by physical, mental, or emotional conditions.

In the study, researchers analyzed data from individuals aged 50 years and older from the 2015 to 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Participants were asked about cannabis use, prescription opioids, and tranquilizers/sedatives, as well as the presence of any functional impairments.

The study found that adults aged 50 and older reporting medical cannabis use, prescription opioid use and misuse, or prescription tranquilizer/sedative use and misuse were more likely to report having an impairment.

"Our findings suggest the symptoms of this patient population are not always being fully addressed or that something else is going on, such as a substance use disorder or a mental health issue like depression and anxiety," said Han. "As health care providers, we need to take a closer look at chronic symptoms among older patients with functional impairments. Managing these conditions often requires a multidisciplinary approach."

Loren Bonner, senior editor

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