Background There is growing concern about potential overuse of, and toxicity from, opioid analgesics. No nationally representative study has examined inter-state variations in opioid use and impact of policy on opioid use among older adults. Methods We used national Medicare data from 2007-2012 to assess temporal and geographic trends in rates of opioid prescription and relationship to opioid toxicity and different state regulations in Part D Medicare recipients. We excluded those with a cancer diagnosis. Multilevel, multivariable regression analyses evaluated rates of prolonged prescriptions for schedule II, schedule III, and combination II/III opioid for each state, adjusting for patient characteristics. Results The percent of Part D recipients receiving prescriptions for combined schedule II/III opioid more than 90 days in a year increased from 4.62% in 2007 to 7.35% in 2012. Large variations existed among states in rates of opioid prescriptions: from 2.84% in New York to 10.93% in Utah, in 2012 data. The state variation was larger for schedule III than schedule II. Individual characteristics independently associated with prolonged use included older age, female gender, white race, low income, living in a lower-education area, and comorbidity of drug abuse, rheumatoid arthritis, and depression. Only state law regulating pain clinic was associated with reduction of schedule II opioid prescriptions. Prolonged opioid prescription use increased the odds of opioid overdose-related emergency room visits or hospitalization by 60%. Conclusions Analyses of Medicare Part D data demonstrated a substantial growth in opioid prescriptions from 2007 to 2011 and large variation in opioid prescriptions across states.
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