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Medicare Patients at Risk from Drugs

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Opiod painkillers, dangerous because they can become addictive, were prescribed to one in five Medicare patients in a five-year review of data by USA Today for a series called "Medication Generation."

Many of those who took the prescription narcotics had chronic aches and pains, for which opiods are not the drug of choice, experts say. For one thing, tolerance builds up over time, making the drugs less effective. And the drugs can be powerfully addictive.

Between 2007 and 2012, the number of Medicare prescriptions for opiods rose more than 30 percent to more than 8.5 million patients, the newspaper reported.

Prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications such as alprazolam (brand name Xanax), buspirone and lorazepam (Ativan), rose about 25 percent, the review found.

Geriatrics experts say doctors should prescribe such drugs with caution because older people can already have balance problems, and falls can be dangerous.