Millions of opioid and benzodiazepine prescriptions are dispensed near end-of-life. After death, patients’ unused prescription pills belong to family members, who often save rather than dispose of them. We sought to quantify this exposure in Medicare beneficiaries.
We estimated the share of decedent Medicare beneficiaries who potentially left behind opioid or benzodiazepine pills at the time of death using Part D claims of a 20 % national sample of Medicare beneficiaries between 2006-2015 linked to the National Death Index.
We estimated that 1 in 6 Medicare beneficiaries who died between 2006-2015 potentially left behind opioid pills, and 1 in 10 who died between 2013-2015 potentially left benzodiazepines as well. Leftover pills were more common among younger, dually enrolled, and lower-income beneficiaries, as well as beneficiaries living in non-urban areas and those with a history of mental illness, drug use disorders, and chronic pain. North American Natives and Non-Hispanic Whites had higher proportions than Black, Hispanic, and Asian decedents.
Opioids and benzodiazepines are commonly left behind at death. Policies and interventions that encourage comprehensive and safe medication disposal after death may reduce risk for intra-household diversion and misuse of prescription opioids and benzodiazepines.

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