A recent study by a 2015 Nobel Prize winner has raised eyebrows: We’re seeing an increase in deaths of mid-life White Americans, partly due to our epidemic of drug addiction.
A professor of clinical psychology goes a step further in an op-ed. Richard Friedman points the finger at healthcare providers who’ve increased prescribing addictive pain medication to patients who may not need such strong narcotics.
Several years ago the manufacturer of OxyContin weakened the drug’s addictive properties. Many Oxy addicts then turned to illicit drugs. Heroin addiction thus is spiking, taking its toll in rural and suburban America more than in large urban areas.
Insurance fraud also is a large financier of prescription abuse. False prescriptions by doctors, pharmacists and addicts are putting narcotics into the hands of addicts, the Coalition wrote in Prescription for Peril. Strong state prescription drug monitoring programs are necessary to help stem the epidemic. The new morbidity study supports everything we say.
News stories routinely profile law-abiding middle-class men and women being investigated for doctor shopping and prescription addiction. The latest morbidity study adds a new wrinkle: An increase in the deaths of mid life White middle-class Americans — and not because of famine or war.
Nearly all states have databases that track prescription drug use by patients, and prescribing patterns by medical providers. A key goal is to head off abuse of drugs that often are charged to insurers as false claims. Yet only some prescription monitoring programs are fully funded and functional. The rest have leaks that can let addicts all-too-freely obtain painkillers and other drugs.
More states are working to plug the gaps. In fact 13 states recently began requiring physicians and pharmacists to check their state’s database before prescribing and dispensing narcotic drugs for new patients who claim acute or chronic pain. Providers also must regularly check while patients are being treated.
Workers-comp and health insurers have skin in the game — they pay billions a year in false prescriptions. Their involvement in state anti-abuse efforts also should be encouraged. Overdose deaths from prescription opioids have quadrupled in the U.S. since 1999, says the Centers for Disease Control. So have opioids prescribed and sold in the U.S. All the while, Americans still report the same amount of pain.
The feds are pumping a cool $20 million into preventing overdose deaths from painkillers and other addictive meds. The cash influx goes to 16 states from the CDC.
Medicare drug abuse also is growing. A new U.S. Senate bill would move pushback efforts several steps forward as well.
So fraud fighters, insurers and health policymakers must encourage and support these programs. Stronger state prescription monitoring programs are needed. Monitoring programs should be allowed to communicate with other. And all medical providers and pharmacists should be required to check the system before prescribing or filling scripts for addictive narcotics.
This is the least we must do so future studies produce encouraging drug-use and mortality results.
About the author: Howard Goldblatt is director of government affairs for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.