Study: 15% of Medicare Recipients, 65+ Leave Hospital With Prescription Painkiller Drugs

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Study: 15% of Medicare Recipients, 65+, Leave Hospital With Prescription Painkiller Drugs

According to a study published last summer in JAMA Internal Medicine, as many as 15% of Medicare patients take home prescriptions for painkiller drugs – these prescriptions are received within a week of hospital discharge.

In addition, around 43% of Medicare patients were still taking opioid painkillers three months post-discharge. Most of these patients were 65 year or older, and many had surgeries for liver and pancreas issues, the digestive tract, the female reproductive system, and burns.

Dana Goldman, study co-author, director of the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics:

“Opioid use — and abuse — has reached epidemic proportions in the United States — even among the elderly. If we are going to do something to combat this alarming trend, we first need to understand the clinical context in which patients are gaining access to painkillers.”

The researchers noted it was not clear whether the painkillers were necessary to help patients. Prescription opioid-based painkillers include hydrocodone, fentanyl, morphine, and oxycodone, among others.

Goldman:

“If we are going to do something to combat this trend, we need to dig more deeply into hospital practices. Traditional regulatory policies that focus on access at pharmacies are likely not enough.”

Researchers revealed another association – hospitals with “modestly higher rates of post-discharge opioid use” received the best rating for pain management.

The study examined a random sample of Medicare recipients hospitalized in 2011, and included nearly 624,000 hospitalization. Of those, 92,882 received a new opioid prescription within 7 days of discharge. Data was taken from more than 2,500 hospitals.

Researchers also noted some limitations to the study, which require further investigation.

About The Epidemic

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 1.9 million Americans over age 12 are addicted to painkillers, and more than 28,000 persons died from opioid-related deaths (prescription drugs and/or heroin) in 2014. Since 1999, the number of drug overdoses in the U.S. have quadrupled.

From 2000 to 2014 nearly half a million people died from drug overdoses. Seventy-eight Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

Of no coincidence, since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled, although there has not been a significant change in the amount of pain reported by Americans.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

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