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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UTexas, Galveston Researchers Find Increased Opioid Prescriptions among Older Adults in Medicare Data

Investigators from the University of Texas Medical Branch recently analyzed national Medicare data to look at recent trends in opioid use among older adults. They found that the number of Part D Medicare recipients using opioid analgesics for a prolonged time increased substantially from 2007 to 2011, with a slight decline in 2012. Prolonged use was defined as having a prescription of 90 days or more. States varied widely in their rates of opioid prescription.

This is the first study to look at the national data on the use of opioids in older adults. The findings, published in the American Journal of Medicine, indicate that state laws regulating opioid prescription mediated 11.1 percent of state-level variation in schedule III opioid prescriptions, and 29.2 percent of state-level variation in schedule II opioid prescriptions. The only state laws that had an effect were those governing pain management clinics.

The researchers also found that prolonged opioid prescription use made it 60 percent more likely that an older adult would suffer an opioid overdose-related emergency room visit or hospitalization. In addition, states with a high rate of prolonged opioid prescription use also had high rates of ER visits and hospitalizations.

The insignificant association between opioid use and six out of seven state laws challenges the utility of state-wide opioid regulating policy. Studies conducted over time are now needed.

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