Clinical Pharmacokinetics

, Volume 31, Issue 5, pp 372–385

Pharmacokinetic Changes in the Elderly

Do They Contribute to Drug Abuse and Dependence?
  • Vural Özdemir
  • Jeanne Fourie
  • Usoa Busto
  • Claudio A. Naranjo
Review Article Special Populations

DOI: 10.2165/00003088-199631050-00004

Cite this article as:
Özdemir, V., Fourie, J., Busto, U. et al. Clin-Pharmacokinet (1996) 31: 372. doi:10.2165/00003088-199631050-00004

Summary

The elderly frequently use psychoactive drugs including alcohol (ethanol), benzodiazepines and opioid analgesics, which have a propensity to cause abuse and dependence. Theoretically, the changes in pharmacokinetics of these agents in the elderly may modify their abuse and dependence potential. In the elderly, blood alcohol concentrations following an oral dose are higher, alcohol withdrawal syndrome follows a more severe and protracted clinical course and requires treatment with higher doses of chlordiazepoxide than needed for younger adults. However, there is no direct evidence that supports an increased direct abuse and dependence potential of alcohol because of its altered kinetics in the elderly.

In the case of oxidatively metabolised benzodiazepines, both age-related pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic changes may increase their clinical effects in the elderly. The hypothesis that benzodiazepines have an increased abuse and dependence potential in the elderly has not been tested. Many of the benzodiazepines (e.g. alprazolam, triazolam and midazolam) are metabolised by the cytochrome P450 (CYP) 3A subfamily. The pharmacokinetics of these agents may be modified by inhibition of CYP3A due to concurrently administered medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Unfortunately, data on the direct measures of abuse and dependence potential of benzodiazepines are not available in the elderly. Thus, a conclusive statement on the contribution of age-related pharmacokinetic changes to benzodiazepine abuse and dependence cannot be made at the present time.

The clinical effects of codeine do not appear to change with age. Codeine is O-demethylated to its active metabolite morphine by the genetically polymorphic CYP2D6 isozyme. The activity of this isozyme is unaltered by age, gender or smoking habits; however, it is subject to potent inhibition by some of the frequently used medications in the elderly, such as the antidepressants paroxetine and fluoxetine. This may result in an impairment in O-demethylation of codeine to morphine and may lead to a decrease in the abuse and dependence potential of codeine. Conversely, those with a very rapid CYP2D6 catalytic activity may have an increased potential for codeine abuse and dependence.

The clinical significance of age-related pharmacokinetic changes should be evaluated within the context of clinical practice. Most physicians are inclined to prescribe lower doses to the elderly, which may offset the potential impact of altered pharmacokinetics on the abuse and dependence potential of psychoactive agents.

Insummary, the available data are not sufficient for a definitive conclusion on whether the pharmacokinetic changes in the elderly translate to an increase in the abuse and dependence potential of alcohol, benzodiazepines or opioids. In particular, the data on age-associated changes in direct measures of abuse potential of these agents are missing. Future comparative systematic pharmacokinetic-pharmacodynamic studies assessing pertinent outcome measures on abuse and dependence potential of commonly used psychoactive drugs are required to resolve the ongoing controversy on risk factors for drug abuse and dependence in the elderly.

Copyright information

© Adis International Limited 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vural Özdemir
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
  • Jeanne Fourie
    • 1
    • 2
  • Usoa Busto
    • 1
    • 3
  • Claudio A. Naranjo
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Psychopharmacology Research Program, Sunnybrook Health Science CentreUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Department of PharmacologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Addiction Research Foundation and Faculty of PharmacyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  4. 4.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  5. 5.Department of MedicineUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada