Opioid Prescribing in the 2016 Medicare Fee-for-Service Population

Matthew L. Maciejewski, Lindsay Zepel, Sarah L. Hale, Virginia Wang, Clarissa J. Diamantidis, Jacquelyn W. Blaz, Serene Olin, Shondelle M. Wilson-Frederick, Cara V. James, Valerie A. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Opioid use and misuse are prevalent and remain a national crisis. This study identified beneficiary characteristics associated with filling opioid prescriptions, variation in opioid dosing, and opioid use with average daily doses (ADDs) equal to 120 morphine milligram equivalents (MMEs) or more in the 100% Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) population. DESIGN, SETTING, PARTICIPANTS, AND MEASUREMENTS: In a cohort of FFS beneficiaries with 12 months of Medicare Part D coverage in 2016, we examined patient factors associated with filling an opioid prescription (n = 20,880,490) and variation in ADDs (n = 7,325,031) in a two-part model. Among those filling opioids, we also examined the probability of ADD equal to 120 MMEs or more via logistic regression. RESULTS: About 35% of FFS beneficiaries had one or more opioid prescription fills in 2016 and 1.5% had ADDs equal to 120 MMEs or more. Disability-eligible beneficiaries and beneficiaries with multiple chronic conditions were more likely to fill opioids, to have higher ADDs or were more likely to have ADD equal to 120 MMEs or more. Beneficiaries with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) were more likely to fill opioids (odds ratio (OR) = 1.47, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.46–1.47), have higher ADDs (rate ratio = 1.06, 95% CI = 1.06–1.06) when filled and were more likely to have ADD equal to 120 MMEs or more (OR = 1.23, 95% CI = 1.21–1.24). Finally, black and Hispanic beneficiaries were less likely to fill opioids, had lower overall doses and were less likely to have ADDs equal to 120 MMEs or more compared to white beneficiaries. CONCLUSION: Several beneficiary subgroups have underappreciated risk of adverse events associated with ADD equal to 120 MMEs or more that may benefit from opioid optimization interventions that balance pain management and adverse event risk, especially beneficiaries with COPD who are at risk for respiratory depression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)485-493
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Medicare
  • opioid
  • prescription

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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