New AHRQ Reports Highlight Seniors’ Struggles with Opioids

Updated statistics quantify opioid use, hospitalizations and emergency department visits among older adults

Press Release Date: September 18, 2018

Nearly 125,000 hospitalizations among older Americans involved opioid-related diagnoses in 2015, according to an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) report that provides new insights into how one of the Nation’s most urgent public health problems is impacting the senior population.

Opioids’ Impact on SeniorsAn additional report from AHRQ indicates that in 2015 and 2016, nearly 4 million seniors, on average, filled four or more opioid prescriptions. Nearly 10 million filled at least one opioid prescription in those years.

“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,” said AHRQ Director Gopal Khanna, M.B.A. “The information is essential in supporting the Department of Health and Human Services’ and HHS Secretary Alex Azar’s ongoing efforts to confront the epidemic.”

The reports are derived from two AHRQ databases: the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, the Nation’s most comprehensive source of hospital data, and the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, the only national data source measuring how Americans use and pay for medical care.

AHRQ’s new report on hospital use for opioid use disorder and opioid-related adverse events indicated that opioid-related hospitalizations increased more than 50 percent and opioid-related emergency department (ED) visits more than doubled between 2010 and 2015. In 2015, 124,300 hospitalizations and 36,200 ED visits occurred due to complications resulting from opioid use.

The report also showed that seniors’ inpatient hospital costs and ED charges were higher in 2015 if related to opioid use ($14,900) rather than other conditions ($13,200) and that those admitted with an opioid-related problem were also more likely to be discharged to another institution for post-acute care (37 percent) than cases not involving opioids (30 percent). Nearly all (96 percent) of those hospitalized for opioid-related issues had multiple chronic conditions.

The new report measuring prescription opioid use among seniors in the noninstitutionalized population, meanwhile, estimated that nearly 1 in 5 senior adults, on average, filled at least one opioid prescription in 2015 and 2016 and that 7 percent of seniors filled 4 or more opioid prescriptions, which the report considered to be “frequent use.”

Among other findings, report authors found frequent use of opioids was more likely among seniors who were poor or low income compared to those who were middle or high income; more likely among seniors with Medicare and other public insurance compared to those who had Medicare only or Medicare and private insurance; and more likely among seniors living in rural areas compared to those living in urban areas.

“These reports underscore the growing and under-recognized problems with opioid use in older populations, including those who suffer from chronic pain and are at risk for adverse events from opioids,” Khanna said. “The challenge is safe prescribing for those who need opioids for pain while avoiding overuse or misuse.”

AHRQ is the lead Federal agency charged with improving the safety and quality of America’s health care system. AHRQ develops the knowledge, tools and data needed to improve the health care system and help Americans, health care professionals and policymakers make informed health decisions. Learn more about the Agency at www.ahrq.gov.

Page last reviewed September 2018
Page originally created September 2018
Internet Citation: New AHRQ Reports Highlight Seniors’ Struggles with Opioids. Content last reviewed September 2018. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. https://www.ahrq.gov/news/newsroom/press-releases/seniors-struggles-with-opioids.html
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