Rates of opioid-related prescriptions and health care utilization are rising among seniors, according to two September statistical briefs released by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The reports relied on data from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project and the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey.

Researchers found that among patients 65 years and older, there was a 34.3% increase in the rate of opioid-related inpatient stays between 2010 and 2015. During the same period, there was a 17.4% decrease in the rate of non-opioid-related stays.

Emergency Department

Similarly, there was a 74.2% increase in opioid-related emergency department visits during the same time frame compared with a 17.4% increase in non-opioid-related emergency department visits. Compared with non-opioid-related hospital stays and emergency department visits, those that were opioid-related incurred higher costs.

Opioid misuse in older adults is an underappreciated and growing problem. Although opioid misuse overall is lower among older than among younger Americans, the rate of opioid misuse among older adults nearly doubled between 2002 and 2014.

Opioids Prescription

In 2016, a third of the more than 40 million Americans enrolled in Medicare Part D received prescription opioids, and a substantial number received higher doses than recommended for prolonged periods of time, putting them at increased risk of misuse.

Opioid-Related Hospitalizations

Between 2005 and 2014, the rate of opioid-related hospitalizations increased fastest among patients aged 65 years and older compared with all other age groups. They found that in 2015 to 2016, nearly one in five adults aged 65 years or older filled, on average, at least one outpatient opioid prescription and 7.1% obtained four or more prescription fills during the year.

Elderly adults who were poor (9.5%) or low-income (11.3%) were more likely to have at least four opioid prescription fills during the year compared with middle-income (6.8%) and high-income (4.5%) elderly adults. Higher average annual rates of outpatient opioid use were seen for those in poor health (39.4%) versus those in excellent health (8.8%).

Opioid Crisis

The statistics in these reports provide important new insights into the opioid crisis and its impact on one of the nation's most vulnerable populations.