Many US seniors get prescription painkillers from multiple doctors

February 19, 2014
Many U.S. seniors get prescription painkillers from multiple doctors
Overuse raises risk for hospitalization, study finds.

(HealthDay)—About one-third of Medicare patients who get prescriptions for powerful narcotic painkillers receive them from multiple doctors, which raises their risk for hospitalization, according to a new study.

Narcotics (also called opioids) include painkillers such as hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (Oxycontin) and morphine. Prescriptions for these drugs have risen sharply in the United States in the past 20 years—as have overdoses.

"As physicians, we tell not to drive when they take opioids, but we also need to tell them that it can be dangerous to receive these medications from more than one provider," said study author Dr. Anupam Jena, an assistant professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School.

Jena and his colleagues also found that having multiple doctors prescribe increased patients' risk of being hospitalized for drug-related complications such as breathing problems, drowsiness and injuries from falls.

For the study, which was published Feb. 19 in the journal BMJ, the researchers analyzed data from 1.8 million people enrolled in Medicare's prescription benefit (Part D) who filled at least one narcotic prescription in 2010. Medicare is the taxpayer-supported insurance program for the elderly.

The researchers said they were surprised to find that 30 percent of the patients were prescribed by more than one doctor.

"I thought it would be 5 percent to 10 percent," Jena said in a Harvard news release.

The greater the number of prescribers, the higher the risk of hospitalization, said study co-author Pinar Karaca-Mandic, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

"Patients with four or more prescribers were twice as likely to be hospitalized for narcotics-related complications than patients receiving the same number of from a single caregiver," Karaca-Mandic said in the news release.

Doctors need to inform patients about the risks associated with receiving painkillers from more than one , Jena said.

Many health systems and state governments are creating tools to make it easier for doctors to determine if patients are already getting prescription painkillers from another doctor.

Prescriptions for narcotics in the United States increased nearly three-fold from 1991 to 2009, to more than 200 million a year, according to the National Institutes of Health. Narcotic overuse and abuse is a major health issue in the country.

Explore further: Many US women prescribed narcotic pain meds during pregnancy

More information: The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about opioids.

Related Stories

Many US women prescribed narcotic pain meds during pregnancy

February 14, 2014
(HealthDay)—More than 14 percent of American women take powerful narcotic pain medications during pregnancy, according to a large new study.

Drug addicts, dealers are 'Doctor shopping' for pain pills

July 18, 2013
(HealthDay)—One of every 50 prescriptions for addictive prescription painkillers in the United States is filled for so-called "doctor shoppers" who obtain the drugs for recreational use or resale on the street, a new study ...

US seeks tighter controls on certain painkillers (Update)

October 24, 2013
The US Food and Drug Administration recommended tighter controls Thursday on how doctors prescribe the most commonly used narcotic painkillers, in a bid to stop abuse.

US officials target escalating drug overdoses

February 11, 2014
(HealthDay)—As deaths from heroin and prescription painkillers mount across the United States, government officials are searching for ways to stem the toll of addiction.

FDA orders starker warnings on opioid painkillers

September 10, 2013
The Food and Drug Administration is requiring stronger warning labels on prescription painkillers like OxyContin, in the government's latest attempt to reduce overdose deaths caused by the long-acting medications.

FDA panel wants limits on hydrocodone painkillers

January 25, 2013
Federal health advisors want new restrictions on hydrocodone, the highly addictive ingredient found in Vicodin and other widely abused prescription painkillers.

Recommended for you

Study suggests ending opioid epidemic will take years

July 20, 2017
The question of how to stem the nation's opioid epidemic now has a major detailed response. A new study chaired by University of Virginia School of Law Professor Richard Bonnie provides extensive recommendations for curbing ...

Team-based model reduces prescription opioid use among patients with chronic pain by 40 percent

July 17, 2017
A new, team-based, primary care model is decreasing prescription opioid use among patients with chronic pain by 40 percent, according to a new study out of Boston Medical Center's Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine, which ...

Private clinics' peddling of unproven stem cell treatments is unsafe and unethical

July 7, 2017
Stem cell science is an area of medical research that continues to offer great promise. But as this week's paper in Science Translational Medicine highlights, a growing number of clinics around the globe, including in Australia, ...

Popular heartburn drugs linked to higher death risk

July 4, 2017
Popular heartburn drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) have been linked to a variety of health problems, including serious kidney damage, bone fractures and dementia. Now, a new study from Washington University School ...

Most reproductive-age women using opioids also use another substance

June 30, 2017
The majority of reproductive-age and pregnant women who use opioids for non-medical purposes also use at least one other substance, ranging from nicotine or alcohol to cocaine, according to a University of Pittsburgh Graduate ...

At-risk chronic pain patients taper opioids successfully with psychological tools

June 28, 2017
Psychological support and new coping skills are helping patients at high risk of developing chronic pain and long-term, high-dose opioid use taper their opioids and rebuild their lives with activities that are meaningful ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.