marijuana on prescription pad with pills in blue background

Medicare Responds to the Opioid Crisis

So far two dozen states and many private insurers have placed limits on opioid prescriptions, and Medicare responded by creating their own rule to curb opioid addiction in seniors. They originally drafted a rule to take effect on January 1, 2019 that stated Medicare would not cover more than seven days of prescription opioids equivalent to 90 milligrams or more of morphine. This rule aimed to reduce the risk of Medicare beneficiaries becoming addicted to or overdosing on opioids, but many worried it would do more harm than good.


Due to major backlash from patients and doctors alike, Medicare amended the rule. Now when a patient attempts to fill a prescription for opioids for a dosage of 90 milligrams of morphine or more per day, the pharmacist will be required to talk to the prescriber, record the conversation, and then fill the prescription if the prescriber approves it. This system is fairly typical for pharmacists and aims to help patients with chronic pain receive the medication they need.

Some worried that the original rule would negatively affect veterans, who make up a large demographic of people prescribed opioids to manage pain. If implemented, the rule would have hurt long-term users even though it was created to deter new opioid users. Another backlash of this rule could have resulted in patients experiencing terrible withdrawal symptoms and possibly reverting to dangerous street drugs to treat their pain. The new rule, however, aims to support those with chronic pain and not leave them without medication.

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Possible solution

One solution to curbing opioid addiction that has been successful in several states is the legalization of medical marijuana. In states where medical marijuana has been legalized, the number of people relying on opioids for pain management has fallen significantly, according to a study performed by Health Affairs. The study also reported that medical marijuana saved Medicare more than $165 million in 2013.

Medicare Part D had 43.6 million beneficiaries in 2016. With numbers like that, medical marijuana could be a solution to help people avoid dependency on opioids while managing their pain that also saves Medicare money.

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