Medicare beneficiaries face 'treatment gap' for painkiller abuse, misuse, study says

Research letter published Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry found Medicare beneficiaries had highest, most rapidly growing rate of "opioid use" disorder.

When most people think of the victims of the nation's opioid abuse epidemic, they seldom picture members of the Medicare set.

But a research letter published Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry found Medicare beneficiaries had the highest and most rapidly growing rate of "opioid use disorder." Six of every 1,000 recipients struggle with the condition, compared with one out of every 1,000 patients covered through commercial insurance plans.

The letter also concluded that Medicare beneficiaries may face a treatment gap. In 2013, doctors prescribed a high number of opioid prescription painkillers for this population -- which put patients at risk for addiction -- but far fewer prescriptions for buprenorphine-naloxone, the only effective drug therapy for opioid use disorder covered by Medicare Part D.

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