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Airing Monday, August 31st at 10pm ET/7pm PT
“In what’s being called ‘a hidden epidemic,’ a growing number of elderly Americans are dying after taking too many narcotics.” – Libby Casey, Al Jazeera America
Find Al Jazeera America near you: www.aljazeera.com/getajam
This Monday, August 31st at 10pm ET/7pm PT, Al Jazeera’s Emmy Award-winning “Fault Lines” takes a look at the American elderly population’s increasing dependence on opioid drugs to manage chronic pain.
The segment looks deeper into the opioid drug addiction epidemic in the U.S., which consumes 80% of the world’s pain pills. Opioid drug addiction is often discussed in relation to younger populations abusing drugs that were not prescribed to them.
However, “Take as Prescribed” exposes the new reality that a growing number of elderly Americans are addicted to opioids, and a growing number are dying from drug overdoses. Al Jazeera America’s Libby Casey and the “Fault Lines” team speak first with Roy Bosley, the widower of Carol Ann Bosley who died at age 60 from an opioid drug overdose.
Carol was prescribed opioids by her doctor, pain researcher and physician Dr. Lynn Webster, to deal with pain she sustained from spinal injuries after a car accident. As her doses increased, Carol became addicted to her pain medication. “We’re talking about 224 pills of Oxycodone and we’re talking about 112 Percocets,” says Roy Bosley. By the time she died, Carol was taking more than 600 pills a month.
Roy Bosley sued Dr. Webster for medical malpractice and settled out of court. “There isn’t a day goes by that I don’t think about her,” says Roy Bosley remembering his late wife. “I miss her so much.”
Some elderly opioid addicts live to tell the tale – and recover. “I was taking exactly what the doctor prescribed, when the doctor prescribed, how the doctor prescribed,” says Larry Moore, who calls himself an “accidental addict.” He said he wasted years of his life in “a deep, deep hole” hooked on painkillers.
When asked who should have stopped it, he says it should have been the doctors. “I was just doing what the doctors told me to do.”
It’s not just doctors under scrutiny. Two counties in California are suing the five major opioid drug manufacturers for “waging a campaign of deception.” The California complaint alleges that the companies misrepresented the benefits and downplayed potential side effects of opioid use for pain management and began marketing opioids for the treatment of chronic pain. The suit claims that the elderly population was targeted because they are more likely to suffer from chronic pain – and they are well insured.
“Before the 1990s, opioids were rarely prescribed except for acute pain and for palliative care, for the treatment of, like, cancer pain. In order to change that culture, the complaint explains how the drug companies implemented a decades-long scheme to alter the prescribing habits of doctors, as well as the drug use of patients who suffer from chronic pain,” says Danny Chou, Assistant County Counsel, Santa Clara County, an attorney involved in the case.
Despite the growing crisis in elderly addiction, there are only a few in-patient rehabilitation centers in the U.S. focused on treating older patients addicted to painkillers. Dr. Andrew Kolodny of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing Americans tells Al Jazeera America that senior citizens have seen the largest increase in hospital emergency room visits and deaths from drug overdoses due to opioid abuse. “When you look at the groups that have had the greatest increase in problems associated with prescription opioids, for example, visits to hospital emergency rooms because of opioid misuse, it’s Americans over 65 that have had the largest increase.”
Shirley Scharr, an 86-year-old pain patient prescribed a high-dosage of opioid painkillers, says that she does not know if she has “the courage to stop” taking them despite using other methods to reduce her pain, including those with no side effects such as “tapping” her body in certain places to reduce her focus on the pain symptoms. “I wish they’d come up with something else that would be more helpful that isn't so addicting. And I guess I’m addicted. I don’t know. I’ve done this for several years.”
While doctors and patients debate the best ways to deal with chronic pain, millions of senior citizens continue to fill new prescriptions for narcotics – with a growing number of them suffering devastating consequences, leaving families struggling to make sense of deaths they believe could have been prevented.
Fault Lines' “Take as Prescribed” premieres on Al Jazeera America on Monday, August 31st at 10 p.m. Eastern / 7 p.m. Pacific.
Advance press-only screening link (Prohibited to share, download, reproduce or post online):
Learn more about the show here.
About Al Jazeera America
Al Jazeera America is the U.S. news channel that provides both domestic and international news for American audiences. Headquartered in New York City with bureaus in 12 cities across the United States, Al Jazeera America carries an award-winning mix of live news, special programming, documentaries and more. To find Al Jazeera America in your area, visitwww.aljazeera.com/getajam. Visit Al Jazeera America online athttp://www.aljazeera.com/america. Like us on Facebook and follow @AJAM, @AJAMCorp on Twitter for the latest news and updates. Join the conversation using #AJAM.