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Generic opioid tops Medicare’s prescription chart Posted 05/06/2015

An analysis of Medicare’s prescription drug programme in the US has found that generics of the opioid painkiller Vicodin (hydrocodone/acetaminophen) was the most widely prescribed medicine to Medicare* beneficiaries in 2013. More than 691,000 providers prescribed the painkiller in 2013, including surgeons, dentists and pain experts, according to data released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on 30 April 2015.

Hydrocodone/acetaminophen has long been up at the front of the US generics prescriptions list, leading the way back in 2010 [1]. Nevertheless, researchers have said that the findings reflect the years-long increase in the use of opioid painkillers in the US, which comes alongside concerns about widely reported abuse of the drug.

The top drug by cost, rather than by number of prescriptions, was Nexium (esomeprazole magnesium) [2], for which a generic has not yet been approved in the US. Generics companies are falling over each other to win approval for a generic version of this AstraZeneca blockbuster acid-reflux drug.

The latest analysis by the CMS revealed that more than half of the prescriptions for hydrocodone/acetaminophen came from family-practice or internal-medicine physicians. The data in the analysis reflect prescriptions to Medicare beneficiaries under the programme’s Part D benefit, which covers medications they get from pharmacies, not those administered in hospitals or doctors’ offices. Many patients who took hydrocodone/acetaminophen were in the programme because they were disabled, even if they were younger than 65.

*Medicare is a national social insurance programme, administered by the US federal government since 1966. It provides health insurance for Americans aged 65 and older who have worked and paid into the system, as well as to younger people with disabilities.

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1.   GaBI Online - Generics and Biosimilars Initiative. Generics grab 80% share of US market and fill 78% of prescriptions [www.gabionline.net]. Mol, Belgium: Pro Pharma Communications International; [cited 2015 Jun 5]. Available from: www.gabionline.net/Reports/Generics-grab-80-share-of-US-market-and-fill-78-of-prescriptions 
2.   GaBI Online - Generics and Biosimilars Initiative. Medicare data shows savings to be made with generics use [www.gabionline.net]. Mol, Belgium: Pro Pharma Communications International; [cited 2015 Jun 5]. Available from: www.gabionline.net/Reports/Medicare-data-shows-savings-to-be-made-with-generics-use 

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Source: CMS, WSJ

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