Opioid Prescriptions in Older Medicare Beneficiaries After the 2014 Federal Rescheduling of Hydrocodone Products

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18 Scopus citations


Objectives: To examine how an October 2014 Drug Enforcement Administration policy reclassified hydrocodone product from schedule III to II has affected older adults, who are among the largest consumers of prescription opioids in the United States. Design: Retrospective cohort study. Setting: United States. Participants: A 20% sample of Medicare Part D beneficiaries aged 65 and older from 2013 through 2015 (> 2,500,000 beneficiaries each year). Measurements: From January 2013 to December 2015, we calculated the monthly prevalence of opioid prescriptions and the prevalence of individuals who received prescriptions for a 90-day supply or longer (prolonged), as well as hospitalizations related to opioid toxicity in 2013 and 2015. Results: From 2013 to 2015, the proportion of Medicare Part D enrollees who received a hydrocodone prescription in a year decreased from 21.9% to 18.3%. Monthly rates for hydrocodone prescriptions declined significantly in 2014. The risk of receiving prolonged opioid prescriptions decreased by approximately 7% in the multivariable analyses comparing 2015 to 2013 (prevalence ratio=0.93, 95% confidence interval (CI)=0.93–0.94). Medicare enrollees with an original entitlement because of disability or with Medicaid eligibility had smaller decreases in prolonged prescriptions and, unexpectedly, small increases in high-dose prescriptions. Opioid-related hospitalizations did not change significantly, but opioid-related hospitalizations without a documented opioid prescription increased (odds ratio=1.24, 95% CI=1.03–1.50). Conclusion: The 2014 change in hydrocodone from schedule III to schedule II was associated with modest decreases in rates of opioid use in the elderly. The unexpected increase in opioid-related hospitalizations without documented opioid prescriptions may represent an increase in illegal use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)945-953
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2018


  • Medicare
  • Opioid
  • Overdose
  • Regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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