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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My mother is a drug addict. Now, before you picture a swinging party animal, you need to know that she is 80 years old.

Mother is addicted to narcotics prescribed by a specialist in geriatric medicine. The drugs are not very effective in reducing her aches and pains (she says), so she takes more than the prescribed dosage. As this point, I'm not sure when she is truly in pain or just needs "a fix."

Her friends try to help by giving her some of their prescription drugs, so she's combining pills with no knowledge of the hazardous side effects and the danger of overdose. Her doctor is not aware of the amount of drugs my mother is taking.

Abby, I am hearing more and more about elderly people being overmedicated by their doctors, and I am appalled! Senior citizens must be monitored carefully. Some have heart problems, high or low blood pressure, or other serious ailments. They can also have failing memories and may become confused. Consequently, they may take their medications more often and in higher dosages than prescribed. Their equilibrium can be affected, causing falls that produce bruises, broken bones and gashes requiring more pain medication. My mother has already fallen several times.

I don't know what I can do to help her. She's too stubborn to listen to me or change her ways. Abby, it would be a kindness on your part to print this letter as a warning to those who are beginning to fall into this vicious trap.

There is too much pill-taking in this country, legal and illegal. We don't seem to be winning the war on illegal drugs, but perhaps we can do something about the overuse of legal ones, especially by our elders who depend on us to care for them in their "golden" years. -- CONCERNED DAUGHTER

DEAR CONCERNED DAUGHTER: Take it upon yourself to inform your mother's doctor that she has increased dosages on her own and that she's trading medication with others. Her welfare could depend on it.

Insist that she make an appointment with her doctor immediately. Brown-bag all her medications, including over-the-counter drugs, and accompany her to the appointment so both you and she can discuss with the doctor drug interactions and potential dangers from overmedication. Since organs become less efficient at ridding the body of toxins as one ages, a dosage that is appropriate at age 65 or 70 may be too strong at 80.

I was surprised to learn that while citizens over 65 constitute less than 13 percent of our population, they consume roughly one-third of prescription medications. It is estimated that, on average, a senior citizen will fill 15 new prescriptions a year. The potential for becoming addicted is frightening.

It is difficult to know how many seniors abuse medications because many see a number of doctors for a variety of problems, and sometimes fill prescriptions at several pharmacies. Addicted seniors are rarely questioned because we commonly think of "addicts" as younger people who buy their drugs on the street -- not elderly people filling prescriptions at pharmacies.

Geriatric specialists are beginning to explore drug addiction problems among seniors. However, it's important for family members to consider this possibility if their parents or older relatives begin to display symptoms of confusion, depression or changes in behavior, so that doctors and pharmacists can review medical records with an eye toward heading off potential addiction before it can become a destructive "habit."

Abby shares more of her favorite, easy-to-prepare recipes. To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, More Favorite Recipes, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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