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Medicare has been slow to react to the prescription drug abuse problem sweeping the nation, according to a new report. Congressional investigators say 170,000 Medicare beneficiaries received prescriptions from five or more health care providers in 2008, for 14 types of frequently abused medications.

According to The New York Times, the report will be presented on Tuesday at a Senate hearing. Investigators from the Government Accountability Office reviewed records of Medicare’s Part D, which provides prescription drug coverage. They found the most commonly abused drugs included the opioids oxycodone and hydrocodone.

Delaware Senator Tom Carper, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, which is holding the hearing, noted in a news release that one Medicare beneficiary received prescriptions from 87 medical practitioners in 2008.

The report recommends that the government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) implement a restricted program for beneficiaries who “doctor shop,” and ask for authority to limit those beneficiaries’ access to commonly abused medications.

Many doctors interviewed for the report said they were unaware their Medicare patients were also getting prescriptions from other doctors.

Jonathan D. Blum of CMS told the newspaper that prescription drug abuse among Medicare patients could be reduced through increased use of electronic health records and the electronic transmission of prescriptions to drugstores. He added insurers could increase their review of claims, in order to identify patterns of “gross overuse or inappropriate or medically unnecessary care.”


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