Study: Medicare places few prescribing restrictions on opioids

Medicare plans enact few limitations on prescription opioids, despite federal guidelines recommending restrictions on these drugs, according to a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The CDC issued prescribing guidelines for opioids in 2016. The guidelines urge physicians to prescribe opioids at the lowest effective dose possible and preferably just for acute, short-term pain with some exceptions.

For the study, researchers examined CMS prescription drug plan formulary files on Medicare Advantage and Part D plans for the years 2006, 2011 and 2015. Researchers identified no restrictions — such as prior authorization — in one-third of opioid prescriptions in 2015. While this is a significant decrease in unrestricted opioid prescriptions compared to 2006 when two-thirds of Medicare opioid prescription were unrestricted, the 2015 rate of unrestricted opioid prescriptions is still significant, according to researchers.

Additionally, researchers found the number of opioids on the formulary list increased from 2006 to 2015.

The study's authors also noted that only 13 percent of opioid prescriptions issued in 2015 were aligned with the CDC guidelines.

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