Overdose deaths from nonprescribed prescription opioids, heroin, and other synthetic opioids in Medicare beneficiaries

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Importance: Opioid use disorder in the United States' Medicare population increased from 10 to 24 per 1000 from 2012 to 2018. Understanding the changes in the patterns of opioid overdose mortality over time holds broad clinical and public health relevance. Objective: To examine trends and correlates of opioid overdose deaths from nonprescribed prescription opioids, heroin, and other synthetic opioids. Design, setting and participants: The study used Medicare-National Death Index linked data from a 20% national sample to identify a retrospective cohort who died from opioid overdose in 2012–2016. The study analyzed data from December 2019 to March 2020. Main outcome and measures: We examined type of opioid overdose deaths; percentage of opioid deaths without documented opioid prescriptions in the prior 6 months; and percentage of deaths from heroin or synthetic opioids among people on long-term prescription opioids whose prescribers reduced or subsequently discontinued their opioids. The study also calculated the proportion receiving medication for addiction treatment. The study included demographic characteristics and 15 chronic or potentially disabling conditions associated with overall opioid overdose deaths. Results: Among 6932 Medicare enrollees who died from opioid overdose in 2012–2016, the mean (SD) age was 52.9 (12.1) years, 45.4% were women, and 82.4% were white. The number of opioid overdose deaths increased from 1159 in 2012 to 1697 in 2016. In the adjusted analyses, opioid deaths occurring in 2016 were 2.6 times more likely to be due to heroin or other synthetic opioids than opioid deaths occurring in 2012. The prescription opioid deaths occurring without a documented opioid prescription in the 6 months before death increased from 6.8% in 2012 to 11.7% in 2016. Factors associated with such deaths, assessed in a stepwise logistic regression model, included metropolitan or rural residence and diagnosis of opioid use disorder. Among people with long-term opioid use whose prescription opioids were reduced in the 6 months before death, the percentage of deaths attributable to heroin and other synthetic opioids increased from 17% in 2012 to 47% in 2016. Factors associated with such deaths, assessed in a stepwise logistic regression model, included diagnosis of hepatitis and opioid use disorder. Less than 10% of these enrollees received medication for addiction treatment. Conclusion: There were substantial increases in patients' obtaining opioid analgesics from unlicensed sources and in overdose deaths from nonprescribed opioids during the study period (2012–2016). Increased access to pain management and opioid use disorder treatments is critical to reducing the opioid overdose deaths in the United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108282
JournalJournal of Substance Abuse Treatment
Volume124
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2021

Keywords

  • Fentanyl
  • Heroin
  • Medicare
  • Opioid overdose

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Phychiatric Mental Health
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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