LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — According to the CDC, the opioid epidemic is responsible for the deaths of nearly 130 a day, many of them at a young age. However, there is another generation at risk.

According to Dr. Jeanne Wei at the UAMS Institute on Aging, for patients aged 90 and older, opioids are the fourth most commonly prescribed medicine.

“We were taught if the patient says they have pain you need to believe them and then the opioid crisis hit and we realized everything we knew was wrong,” said Registered Nurse, Cathy Buzbee.

A lot has changed since Cathy Buzbee started her career as a registered nurse 38 years ago.

“At the time we were teaching about pain being the fifth vital sign, that pain could be treated by escalating doses of opioids and certain opioids, if you took them for pain, would not be addictive. Well, that was certainly wrong,” said Buzbee. 

Buzbee said with the need to educate herself, not only for her sake but for her patients, many of whom are older. “I need to learn some new information,” said Buzbee.

Buzbee said that is when she found out about O.P.A.L. or Opioid Prevention for Aging and Longevity. The grant-funded program at the UAMS Reynolds Institute on Aging is aimed at preventing or reducing opioid use among seniors.

“What we haven't been so attentive to is the fact that many of the opioid prescriptions are given to older patients,” said Dr. Jeanne Wei, Executive Director of the UAMS Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging.

The program is aimed at adults 55 and older and teaches valuable information about opioids, their side effects, and risks.

“We also let them know the complications because in older persons they already have a predisposition to have many other vulnerabilities,” said Dr. Wei.

Joyce Brewer said O.P.A.L has taught her how to talk to her doctor about her medications and alternative methods of pain relief, like exercise, yoga and even dance.

“It would behoove people as we get older to find out more about ourselves. Because you don't know, you've never been this age before so when things arise, you need to know how to take care of it,” said Brewer. 

For both Buzbee and Brewer, it's good information to have no matter your age. “You’ve got to make sure you do things right in order to stay here. Longevity is a good thing,” said Brewer.

The next O.P.A.L. class is Thursday, Jan. 30. For more information visit here

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