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Opioid addiction among the elderly

June 28, 2016
by Pamela Tabar, Editor-in-Chief
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Many older adults struggle with chronic pain, but the treatment also holds risks as the number of Medicare beneficiaries who are being prescribed opioids continues to rise.

More than a million older adults may be battling with addiction to painkillers, which can both mask and exacerbate the symptoms of chronic disease and make them even harder to manage, warned Florida addiction specialist John Dyben at the Addiction Professional Summit in Pittsburgh, hosted by sister-brand Addiction Professional.

“The reality is that it’s happening a lot,” said Dyben, director of older adult treatment services at the Hanley Center at Options in West Palm Beach, one of the few U.S. residential treatment centers specializing in substance abuse among the elderly. More effort needs to be placed on developing screening approaches and intervention programs specifically for this age group, he added.

Plenty of opioids are out there: nearly 12 million Medicare beneficiaries—almost one-third of Medicare recipients—were prescribed at least one painkiller in 2015, including OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin and fentanyl, according to an Office of Inspector General report released last week.

CMS has been monitoring Part D spending for commonly overused drugs since 2013. The system flagged 15,651 beneficiaries last year as potential problem drug users. In 2017, the federal government will bar payment for prescriptions written by doctors who are not enrolled in Medicare.

"Medicare Part D spending on opioids, in general, is decreasing as a percent of total Part D spending, from 3.2 percent in 2014 to 3.0 percent in 2015," a CMS spokesman told the Associated Press. CMS "takes seriously our responsibility to ensure that beneficiaries have access to the drugs they need with appropriate safeguards to prevent abuse."

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