Opioids Can Greatly Affect Older People As Well
It took a lot of convincing to get John Evard into rehab. He was reluctant to give up the medications that he was certain were keeping his pain at bay. But ultimately he agreed - and seven days into his stay at the Las Vegas Recovery Center, the nausea and aching muscles of opioid withdrawal are finally beginning to fade.
Evard says it is hard to understand, even for him, how he ended up 300 miles away from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., at this bucolic facility in the suburbs of Las Vegas. "This is the absolute first time I ever had anything close to addiction," he says. He prefers the term "complex dependence" to describe his situation.
A recent study of Medicare recipients found that in 2011, about 15 percent were prescribed an opioid when they were discharged from the hospital; three months later, 42 percent were still taking the pain medicine.
Evard spent his life working as a corporate tax attorney. He's lively and agile, with a contagious grin. A few years ago he and his wife retired to Arizona with their eyes on the golf course. But the dream didn't last long. Just months into retirement, a virus infected Evard's left ear. Overnight, he lost half his hearing and was left with chronic pain. In January, he had surgery to fix the problem.
His doctors prescribed opioids, including Oxycontin. "They decreased the pain, particularly at first," says Evard. "As time went on, [the pills] had less and less effect, and I had to take more and more." As the doctors increased his dosage, in hopes of managing the pain, Evard's once active life fell apart. He was confused, depressed, and still in pain.
It took John Evard about a week to get over the vomiting and flulike symptoms of detox, which can be particularly hard on older patients. He still has some of the chronic pain that first led him to seek help from a doctor, he says, but he takes Tylenol to deal with it. He's speaking out now about opioids because he doesn't want other seniors to fall into the same trap.