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Prescription Drug Abuse among Older Adults

Prescription drug abuse is a major public health concern. However, few efforts to address the problem focus on older adults, whose unique characteristics may demand different or more nuanced solutions. This Insight on the Issues analyzes the prevalence of prescription drug misuse among older adults and examines age-related difference in the prevalence of misuse for various types of prescription drugs: painkillers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives.


We find that while prescription drug misuse is higher among younger ages, there are several challenges associated with defining and diagnosing prescription drug misuse and abuse in older adults. As a result, many older adults who misuse prescription drugs likely do not know and do not get treatment. The report discusses various implications and recommendations for policy and practice, including raising awareness among the general public and family caregivers about the potential for and consequences of prescription drug abuse among older adults.