Opioid prescriptions decreased while medication-assisted treatment increased in Medicare Part D beneficiaries last year, according to a new federal report. That’s good news, according to experts battling dangerous addictions and diversions in nursing homes and other settings.
Part D paid for 71 million opioid prescriptions, totaling $3.4 billion in 2018. That’s down more than 10% from 79 million prescriptions in 2016, the Office of Inspector General said in a report released Wednesday.
Fewer prescriptions meant fewer Medicare beneficiaries who received opioids. Data showed that 29% of Medicare Part D beneficiaries received opioids, compared to 31% in 2017 and 33% in 2016.
The opioid crisis is a public health emergency in the United States. There were more than 47,000 opioid-related deaths in 2017, according to the OIG. It has tracked the use of opioids in Medicare beneficiaries since 2016.
While opioid use went down, the number of Medicare Part D recipients who received medication-assisted treatment increased even more, 22%, over the previous year. Naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of opioid overdose and prevent death, saw prescriptions more than double during the past year.
The increase in medication-assisted treatments and Naloxone prescriptions might be attributed to Congress’ steps to increase access to the treatment drugs, the report stated.
Despite the promising results from this report, OIG officials said it is “imperative to continue to implement effective strategies and develop new ones to address this epidemic.”
Some actions that have been taken by the Department of Health & Human Services include a five-point plan to combat opioid misuse that emphasizes access to treatment and the availability of opioid-reversal drugs — like Naloxone. It has also started to carry out the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, which aims to expand access to prevention, treatment and recovery services while reducing the access to inappropriate opioids. The law contains several provisions related to Medicaid and Medicare.