USC Schaeffer Center Study: 15% of Medicare Patients Go Home with Pain Relieving Prescriptions

A new study from the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics shows a large number — nearly 15 percent — of Medicare patients receive their first prescription for opioids within a week of being discharged from the hospital.

The study published on June 13 by JAMA Internal Medicine is one of the first to quantify the rate of new opioid prescription amid growing national concern about the use of addictive painkillers.

An estimated 1.9 million Americans aged 12 and older are addicted to painkillers, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The United States hit a record high 19,000 deaths due to opioid overdoses in 2014, the most recent year reported. Awareness of the trend has heightened since authorities determined that the musician Prince died of an opioid overdose.

According to the new study, many of the Medicare patients — 43 percent — were still taking opioids three months after their discharge. Most of these patients were 65 and older, and had undergone surgeries for issues in areas such as the liver, pancreas, digestive tract, female reproductive system and for burns.

“Opioid use — and abuse — has reached epidemic proportions in the United States — even among the elderly,” said USC School of Pharmacy Professor Dana Goldman, a study co-author and director of the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics. “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.”

Read more at USC Schaeffer Center web site.