Current Issue - January 2021 - Vol 24 Issue 1


  1. 2021;24;31-40Patterns of Long-Term Prescription Opioid Use Among Older Adults in the United States: A Study of Medicare Administrative Claims Data
    Health Services Research
    Sujith Ramachandran, PhD, Monika Salkar, MS, John P. Bentley, PhD, Ike Eriator, MD, and Yi Yang, MD, PhD.

BACKGROUND: Long-term opioid therapy was prescribed with increasing frequency over the past decade. However, factors surrounding long-term use of opioids in older adults remains poorly understood, probably because older people are not at the center stage of the national opioid crisis.

OBJECTIVES: To estimate the annual utilization and trends in long-term opioid use among older adults in the United States.

STUDY DESIGN: Retrospective cohort study.

SETTING: Data from Medicare-enrolled older adults.

METHODS: This study utilized a nationally representative sample of Medicare administrative claims data from the years 2012 to 2016 containing records of health care services for more than 2.3 million Medicare beneficiaries each year. Medicare beneficiaries who were 65 years of age or older and who were enrolled in Medicare Parts A, B, and D, but not Part C, for at least 10 months in a year were included in the study. We measured annual utilization and trends in new long-term opioid use episodes over 4 years (2013–2016). We examined claims records for the demographic characteristics of the eligible individuals and for the presence of chronic non-cancer pain (CNCP), cancer, and other comorbidities.

RESULTS: From 2013 to 2016, administrative claims of approximately 2.3 million elderly Medicare beneficiaries were analyzed in each year with a majority of them being women (~56%) and white (~82%) with a mean age of approximately 75 years. The proportion of all eligible beneficiaries with at least one new opioid prescription increased from 6.64% in 2013, peaked at 10.32% in 2015, and then decreased to 8.14% in 2016. The proportion of individuals with long-term opioid use among those with a new opioid prescription was 12.40% in 2013 and 10.20% in 2016. Among new long-term opioid users, the proportion of beneficiaries with a cancer diagnosis during the study years increased from 13.30% in 2013 to 15.67% in 2016, and the proportion with CNCP decreased from 30.25% in 2013 to 27.36% in 2016. Across all years, long-term opioid use was consistently high in the Southern states followed by the Midwest region.

LIMITATIONS: This study used Medicare fee-for-service administrative claims data to capture prescription fill patterns, which do not allow for the capture of individuals enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans, cash prescriptions, or for the evaluation of appropriateness of prescribing, or the actual use of medication. This study only examined long-term use episodes among patients who were defined as opioid-naive. Finally, estimates captured for 2016 could only utilize data from 9 months of the year to capture 90-day long-term-use episodes.

CONCLUSIONS: Using a national sample of elderly Medicare beneficiaries, we observed that from 2013 to 2016 the use of new prescription opioids increased from 2013 to 2014 and peaked in 2015. The use of new long-term prescription opioids peaked in 2014 and started to decrease from 2015 and 2016. Future research needs to evaluate the impact of the changes in new and long-term prescription opioid use on population health outcomes.

KEY WORDS: Long-term, opioids, older adults, trends, Medicare, chronic non-cancer pain, cancer, cohort study