Opioid epidemic also hitting older adults

Greg Nash

As America grapples with an opioid epidemic, senior citizens are often overlooked.

Yet, older adults are highly susceptible to chronic pain and the prescription painkiller addiction is hitting this population.

“We really are looking at the opioid epidemic, we know how destructive it is, but we think of its younger victims,” Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) said at an event on aging and addiction, hosted by The Hill and sponsored by Surescripts.


“This is more of a quiet, more silent, but equally deadly part of the opioid epidemic,” she said.

Roughly one in three beneficiaries in Medicare’s prescription drug program received a prescription for opioids in 2016. About half a million received high amounts of opioids. And nearly 90,000 are at “serious risk” of opioid misuse or overdose, according to a July report by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“What the data really revealed — the final takeaway — is that Medicare may be paying for opioids that are not medically necessary and in fact Medicare may be paying for opioids that are doing harm to seniors and perhaps even others as the drugs are diverted into the street for resale,” said Ann Maxwell, assistant inspector general for evaluations at the HHS Office of Inspector General.

At the event, Clark and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) touted their bill requiring e-prescriptions for controlled substances under Medicare.

Of potential opposition to the measure, Clark said, “the burden is really going to come to doctors, to hospitals, to upgrade their technology to be able to do the e-prescribing.” She added the legislation includes built in ways to give them time to meet this criteria.

But, she said, “this is worth it,” calling it a “critical tool going forward.” Mullin added that the bill doesn’t go into effect until 2020.

A panel of experts discussed their views on how Congress and the administration can help combat the rates of opioid addiction among older adults. These recommendations included an infusion of federal funds, regulations from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on pharmacy and prescriber lock-in programs under Medicare, cautious prescribing of opioids and more.

Tags Katherine Clark Opioid epidemic seniors The Hill
See all Hill.TV See all Video