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Study Shows 40% of Medicaid Patients With Opiate Prescriptions Abuse Painkillers

By John Lavitt 05/12/15

The CDC revealed that Medicaid patients are much more likely to be prescribed opiate painkillers.

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In a frightening study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that adds to the ruins of the prescription painkiller epidemic, nearly 40% of Medicaid patients prescribed opiate painkillers are misusing or abusing the dangerous drugs. 

The most commonly prescribed opiate drugs are codeine, Demerol, morphine, Vicodin, and OxyContin. The CDC chose to highlight these problems in order to raise awareness among medical professionals. Compared to people with private insurance options, Medicaid patients were much more likely to be prescribed stronger painkillers and have more prescriptions.

According to the CDC, almost half of prescription drug overdose deaths are people on Medicaid, which provides health coverage mostly to the poor. By giving Medicaid patients more powerful painkillers, this practice is placing an already vulnerable group at risk of abuse, overdose, and death.

“Some fraction of it is probably due to misuse of one kind or another," said Leonard Paulozzi, a CDC medical epidemiologist and author on the study. "It re-emphasizes getting the best possible management of pain, mental health and other problems."

With sales quadrupling since 1999, prescription opiate use is on the rise nationwide. Misuse among Medicaid patients may be due to poverty or how their healthcare is delivered. Paulozzi explained how a large number of patients are being cared for by a small number of providers, Medicaid patients with an opiate drug prescription had about six prescriptions on average in 2010.

For the study, researchers examined medical records of more than 350,000 Medicaid patients with a prescription for opiate painkillers in 2010. Misuse was determined if there were overlaps between prescriptions, high daily doses or long acting formulas for acute pain.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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