Top Menu

Study: Many U.S. Seniors Get Prescription Pain Pills From Multiple Doctors


A new study found that about one-third of Medicare patients who get prescriptions (Rx) for painkillers receive them from multiple doctors, which raises their risk for hospitalization, HealthDay reports.

Prescriptions for painkillers have risen sharply in the United States over the past 20 years – as have overdoses from the powerful Rx pain medications. These prescribed opiates include painkillers such as hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin) and morphine.

As part of the new study, researchers analyzed data from 1.8 million seniors enrolled in Medicare’s prescription benefit (Part D) who filled at least one prescription for an opiate in 2010. Medicare is the federal taxpayer-supported insurance program for elderly in the U.S. Researchers noted they were surprised to find that 30 percent of elderly patients were prescribed narcotic painkillers by more than one doctor.

Study author Dr. Anupam Jena, an assistant professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, and his colleagues found that having multiple doctors prescribe prescription painkillers increased senior patients’ risk of being hospitalized for drug-related complications such as breathing problems, drowsiness and injuries from falls.

The greater the number of prescribers, the higher the risk of hospitalization, said study co-author Pinar Karaca-Mandic, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. “Patients with four or more prescribers were twice as likely to be hospitalized for narcotics-related complications than patients receiving the same number of prescriptions from a single caregiver,” said Karaca-Mandic.

Another recent report by the Institute of Medicine noted that substance abuse is a growing problem for older Americans.

6 Responses to this article

  1. Avatar of Rob Morgan
    Rob Morgan / March 14, 2014 at 9:33 am

    A NEW study? You gotta be kidding me. People have been drug searching with multiple doctors, friends with doctors, bribes etc. to get more perscription drugs for decades now.
    I have to shake my head with all these “new” studies comming out telling us things that we already know.
    It is a huge problem and doctors should be more proactive when prescribing medication for sure. But, like all of us with budget cuts, government rules etc. we don’t have the time to do this, so many people slip through the cracks. The real problem is that from the “helping” side of the house we are trying to regulate and legislate behavior, and it isn’t going to work. We will never be able to legislate morality.

  2. Cathy / February 25, 2014 at 10:54 am

    Sorry. That should have been to Mahler

  3. Avatar of Cathy
    Cathy / February 25, 2014 at 10:52 am

    Actually, Gagal, there are reports out there that seniors do sell meds to dealers. The dealers take them to the pharmacy where the prescriptions are filled and wait outside for them to come out to buy them. If you are hungry or worried about the roof over your head, what are you going to do? Worry because something is illegal or do whatever you have to in order to survive? I’m not saying it’s right. I’m saying, reportedly, it is done. And seniors on fixed, low incomes, have a hard time of it.

  4. Gagal / February 20, 2014 at 8:37 pm

    Or that gives them excess that they can sell so they can afford little things like food and drugs that they have to have to live!!

  5. Skip Sviokla MD ABAM / February 20, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    This is an important article. All doctors who prescribe opioids should become familiar with and use their state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring program.
    Skip Sviokla MD ABAM
    author-”From Harvard to Hell and Back”

  6. Avatar of Mahler
    Mahler / February 22, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    Gagal: I hope you’re not serious. Suggesting that Medicare recipients might sell drugs to buy necessary items to live is dangerous, illegal, and implausible.

Leave a Reply

Please read our comment policy and guidelines before you submit a comment. Your email address will not be published. Thank you for visiting

+ 7 = twelve

Reproduction in whole or in part of this publication is strictly prohibited without prior consent. Photographic rights remain the property of Join Together and the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. For reproduction inquiries, please e-mail