Prevalence of psychotropic and opioid prescribing among hospice beneficiaries in the United States, 2014–2016

Lauren B. Gerlach, Helen C. Kales, Hyungjin Myra Kim, Lan Zhang, Julie Strominger, Kenneth Covinsky, Joan Teno, Julie P.W. Bynum, Donovan T. Maust

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background/Objectives: Psychotropic and opioid medications are routinely prescribed for symptom management in hospice, but national estimates of prescribing are lacking. Changes in Medicare hospice payment in 2014 provide the first opportunity to examine psychotropic and opioid prescribing among hospice beneficiaries, and the factors associated with use of specific medication classes. Design: Cross-sectional analysis of a 20% sample of traditional and managed Medicare with Part D enrolled in hospice, 2014–2016. Setting: Beneficiaries enrolled in the Medicare hospice benefit. Participants: Medicare beneficiaries ≥65 newly enrolled in hospice between July 1, 2014 and December 31, 2016 (N = 554,022). Main outcome: Prevalence of psychotropic and opioid medication prescribing by class and factors associated with prescribing. Results: 70.3% of hospice beneficiaries were prescribed a psychotropic and 63.3% were prescribed an opioid. The most common psychotropic classes prescribed were: benzodiazepines (60.6%), antipsychotics (38.3%), antidepressants (18.4%), and antiepileptics (10.2%). Lorazepam (56.4%), morphine (52.8%), and haloperidol (28.6%) were received by the most beneficiaries. Prevalence of any psychotropic and opioid prescription was highest among beneficiaries who were female (76.7%), non-Hispanic white (76.6%), and those with cancer (78.9%). Compared to white beneficiaries, non-Hispanic black beneficiaries were less likely to receive nearly every class of medication, with significantly lower odds of receiving opioids (64.1% vs 57.9%; AOR 0.75, 95% CI 0.72–0.77) and benzodiazepines (61.6% vs 52.2%; AOR 0.66, 95% CI 0.64–0.68). Differences were seen across hospice diagnosis; those with cancer were more likely to receive opioids, benzodiazepines, and antipsychotics but less likely to receive antidepressants and antiepileptics. Conclusions: Psychotropic and opioid medications are frequently prescribed in hospice. Observed variations in prescribing across race and ethnicity may reflect disparities in prescribing as well as patient preferences for care. Further work is important to understand factors driving prescribing given limited studies surrounding medication prescribing in hospice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1479-1489
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • hospice
  • psychotropic medication
  • symptom management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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