Report on Medicare Cites Prescription Drug Abuse as Major Problem in U.S.

According to a recent article in the NY Times, Congressional investigators explain that thousands of Medicare recipients are abusing prescription drugs by shopping around for new doctors while obtaining prescriptions from each of them, resulting in dangerously large amounts of painkillers.

Investigators claim that Medicare officials have been extremely slow in recognizing and acting on this evidence. Gregory D. Kutz, the director of forensic audits and special investigations, says their analysis determined that around 170,000 Medicare recipients had visited five or more practitioners in the medical field to receive prescriptions such as OxyContin and Percocet.

In one case, a recipient in Georgia obtained a 150-day Oxycodone supply in just 27 days by visiting four different doctors resulting in seven prescriptions. Throughout the course of one year, the women received a total of 3,655 oxycodone pills from 58 different prescribers and had filled them at over 40 pharmacies.

Senator Thomas R. Carper of Delaware stated that federal dollars, which are intended to help the elderly and poor, are being abused and used instead to feed addictions or to fill the wallets of drug dealers. Prescription drug abuse is now causing increased expense to taxpayers and also threatening the health of Medicare beneficiaries.

Medicare’s drug benefits are managed by privately owned insurance companies that are under contract with our government. Their drug plans gave out almost 57 million prescriptions for opiates last year. This number increased by 11 million from just 2007 – a 24 percent increase.

Investigators argue that we could reduce fraud and prescription drug abuse by simply using electronic health records and electronic broadcast of prescriptions among pharmacies to keep better track of patients’ medical history. Medicare officials argue that high use of pain medications isn’t necessarily an indicator of abuse but rather a poor coordination by medical care in treating pain symptoms.