Prescription drug abuse is on the rise in seniors and the disabled who rely on Medicare Part D to get their prescriptions. A report issued by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carpenter, along with senior Republican Scott Brown, found that nearly 170,000 people enrolled in the program went “doctor shopping” for powerful pain killers like oxycodone and hydrocodone.
In terms of prescription drug abuse, “doctor shopping” is where patients go to different doctors to get multiple prescriptions. The report found that some patients had gone to at least five doctors for prescriptions of drugs that are often abused. In all, these patients accounted for 1.8 percent of the total number of patients enrolled in the program.
Senator Scott Brown called the program “taxpayer-funded drug dealing,” and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) called for more strict control of the program to prevent Medicare fraud.
Why Older Patients are more at Risk
Today, older patients are being prescribed more long-term prescriptions and as many as 30 pills a day, which can lead to unintentional misuse of prescription drugs. For many seniors, the difficulty lies in simply being able to keep track of the pills and dosages they are taking.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Americans ages 65 and older account for 13 percent of the population, but are prescribed one-third of all medicines prescribed in the United States. Combine their multiple prescriptions with over-the-counter medicines and dietary supplements, and the risk that they will have negative drug interactions soars.
Additionally, some seniors take medications that are not medically necessary or use medications for conditions that the medications were not originally prescribed. Seniors also tend to self-medicate for depression.
Benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax are especially dangerous for seniors because they are more likely to feel stronger effects from the drugs than are younger people. These drugs can lead to falls and motor vehicle accidents for seniors, which can cause dangerous hip and thigh fractures.
Despite the risks these medicines pose, the government is expected to expand Medicare’s $62 billion drug program to cover benzodiazepines and other sedatives, both of which are commonly abused drugs.