A recent Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General (OIG) report examines opioid use in Medicare Part D during the first eight months of 2020, the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. Here are the key takeaways from the report.
The OIG notes that from 2016 to 2019, Medicare Part D experienced a steady decline in opioid use and an increased use of drugs for treatment of opioid use disorder. The report looks at changes in opioid use and treatment during the pandemic due to the challenges faced by millions of Americans.
“COVID-19 poses specific dangers for people using opioids, as respiratory diseases like COVID-19 can increase the risk of fatal overdose among those taking opioids and those with opioid use disorder are more likely to contract COVID-19 and suffer complications,” the OIG said.
The report found:
- Roughly 5,000 Medicare beneficiaries per month suffered an opioid overdose during the first eight months of 2020
- There was a dip in the number of beneficiaries who received short-term opioid prescriptions, with a particularly sharp decline in April
- About 220,000 beneficiaries received high amounts of opioids in the first eight months of 2020
- At the same time, the number of beneficiaries who received drugs for medication-assisted treatment of opioid use disorder increased slightly
- Although the number of beneficiaries who received naloxone—a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose—declined through April, it increased in the following months
OIG said that it is vital to remain vigilant as COVID-19 continues to rage across the country. The report concludes that it is essential for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Department of Health and Human Services monitor trends in prescriptions for drugs for medication-assisted treatment and naloxone and take appropriate action if the numbers of prescriptions begin to fall off.