The investigators evaluated pharmaceutical and medical claims data from 48 million individuals who were commercially insured or were Medicare Advantage recipients (both those eligible because they were older than 65 years and those under 65 years old who still were eligible because of disability). The researchers found that 52% of disabled Medicare patients, 26% of aged Medicare patients, and 14% of commercially insured patients used opioids annually within the study period.
In the commercially insured group, there was little fluctuation in patient opioid prevalence by quarter, with an average daily dose of 17 mg morphine equivalents (MME) during 2011-2016; 6% of patients used opioids quarterly at the beginning and end of the study. There was an increase of quarterly opioid prevalence in the aged Medicare group from 11% to 14% at the beginning and end of the study period. Average daily dose also increased during this period for the aged Medicare group from 18 MME in 2011 to 20 MME in 2016.
Researchers said commercial beneficiaries between 45 years and 54 years old had the highest prevalence of opioid use. The disabled Medicare group saw the greatest increase among groups in opioid prevalence and average daily dose, with a 26% prevalence in 2007 and 53 MME average daily dose, which increased to a prevalence of 39% and an average daily dose of 56 MME in 2016.
“Doctors and patients should consider whether long-term opioid use is improving the patient’s ability to function and, if not, should consider other treatments either as an addition or replacement to opioid use,” Dr. Jeffery and her colleagues wrote. “Evidence-based approaches are needed to improve both the safety of opioid use and patient outcomes including pain management and ability to function.”
The researchers noted limitations in the study, such as not including people with Medicaid, fee-for-service Medicare, or the uninsured. In addition, the data reviewed did not indicate the prevalence of chronic pain or pain duration in the patient population studied, they said.