12 Million Medicare Recipients Received Painkiller Prescription in 2015

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12 Million Medicare Recipients Received Painkiller Prescription in 2015

According to a report from the the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, almost 1 in 3 (12 million) Medicare recipients received at least one painkiller prescription in 2015. Those who did obtained an average of 5 prescriptions or refills. Indeed, the report reveals that addictive drugs are commonly given to older Americans.

What’s more troubling is to think is happening in the face of the ever-increasing opioid epidemic. The mass prescribing of commonly abused opioids, such as Norco or OxyContin, is also thought responsible for the growing heroin epidemic, as well. The most commonly prescribed opioids taken by Medicare patients were OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, and *gasp* fentanyl. Fentanyl is a very powerful opioid, deemed responsible for the untimely death of the artist Prince.

Author’s Note: That said, I do think that the older set, if anyone, are the ones that should get these drugs. They often have multiple health ailments, and are experiencing end-stage diseases. They are probably less likely to seek out heroin from the street. I mean, if 82-year-old Max with a heart condition and a bad hip can’t get something for his pain, then what is the purpose of opioids?

Doubling back, physicians also need to be extra careful when providing a painkiller prescription to elders. Sometimes, it is those heart conditions and COPD that put them at extra risk for overdose.

Frederic Blow, University of Michigan Medical School:

“It’s not just a young person’s problem, Overdose risk for older Americans is heightened by medication interactions and alcohol. Addiction is also a risk and doctors should help patients consider alternatives for chronic pain, such as meditation, yoga, walking and weight loss, which allow patients to minimize opioid use.”

Medicare’s Response

According to spokesman Aaron Albright, the agency has been using a prescription monitoring system since 2013:

“ takes seriously our responsibility to ensure that beneficiaries have access to the drugs they need with appropriate safeguards to prevent abuse.”

The system provides reports on high-risk recipients who may be misusing or abusing these drugs. Last year, 15,651 recipients were identified as potential problem users. In 2017, the U.S. government will ban payment for prescriptions given by doctors who are not enrolled in Medicare.

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

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