Under treatment of pain: A prescription for opioid misuse among the elderly?

Maria A. Levi-Minzi, Hilary L. Surratt, Steven P. Kurtz, Mance E. Buttram

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Objective: To examine the demographic, physical, and mental health characteristics; current drug use patterns; motivations for use; and diversion sources among elderly prescription opioid misusers. Design: Mixed methods design. Setting: Research field offices, or senior or community center offices in South Florida. Subjects: Individuals aged 60 and over reporting past 90-day prescription medication misuse; only prescription opioid misusers (N=88) were included in the final analysis. Methods: The Global Appraisal of Individual Needs was the main survey instrument. A subsample of elderly reporting substantial prescription drug misuse were chosen for the in-depth interview (N=30). Results: The mean age was 63.3. Fifty percent reported ever being admitted to a drug treatment program; several endorsed recent illicit drug use: powder cocaine and/or crack (35.2%), marijuana (30.7%), heroin (14.8%). The majority reported past year severe physical pain and discomfort (86.4%), and misuse of their primary opioid for pain (80.7%); over half (52.3%) obtained their primary opioid from their regular doctor. Qualitative data highlight the misuse of prescription opioids due to untreated or undertreated pain. Participants with primary opioid misuse for pain had over 12 times higher odds of obtaining the medication from their regular doctor (odds ratio [OR]=12.22, P=0.002) and had lower odds of using a dealer (OR=0.20, P=0.005). Conclusions: Findings suggest that this group of elderly participants often misuse their own prescriptions for pain management. This study highlights the need to educate prescribing professionals on appropriate pain management for older adults while still being sensitive to issues of substance abuse and dependence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1719-1729
Number of pages11
JournalPain Medicine (United States)
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2013


  • Older Adults
  • Opioids
  • Pain Management
  • Substance Abuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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