Hydrocodone prescribed most to Medicare beneficiaries

May 4, 2015

Generic Vicodin (hydrocodone acetaminophen) was the most widely-prescribed drug to Medicare Part D beneficiaries in 2013, according to new data released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services last week.

Generic Vicodin (hydrocodone acetaminophen) was the most widely-prescribed drug to Medicare Part D beneficiaries in 2013, according to new data released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services last week.

The data, required by the Obama administration to make healthcare more transparent, contains information from over 1 million different healthcare providers who collectively prescribed approximately $103 billion in prescription drugs and supplies paid under the Part D program.

Related:Medicare Part D scripts reach $103 million

While hydrocodone may have been the most widely prescribed, the top prescribed drugs by dollar value to Medicare Part D beneficiaries in 2013 were: Nexium, Advair, Crestor, Abilify, Cymbalta, Spiriva, Namenda, Januvia, Lantus and Revlimid.

However, researchers were most concerned about the high rate of hydrocodone prescriptions, especially given the high rate of abuse of the drug. “It’s striking that the drug prescribed to the most beneficiaries is a narcotic painkiller that can be addictive,” Walid Gellad, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, told The Wall Street Journal.

Related: Study: Babies exposed to narcotic pain relievers more likely to experience drug withdrawal syndrome

Around 691,000 providers prescribed the painkiller in 2013, including surgeons, dentists and pain experts. Notably, an estimated 200 healthcare providers gave the drug to more than half the beneficiaries to whom they prescribed.

For example, Dorothy Gillespie, an internist in Hattiesburg, Miss., was the 26th-ranked prescriber of hydrocodone acetaminophen in 2013 by dollar value, with $106,875 in spending on the drug for 335 beneficiaries, according to WSJ. Gillespie surrendered her medical license in March, after being accused of violating state prescribing laws.

Among providers who wrote more than 10 hydrocodone acetaminophen prescriptions to both elderly and disabled beneficiaries, around 45% of the claims were for people under 65, according to WSJ.