Prescription painkillers were once a godsend to many in pain. They pharmaceutical companies used to have a minimal selection for medications. Now there are tons of different prescription pills to choose from to deal with chronic pain. Though these medications help many people who need them, the amount of abuse has made these medications infamous for overdoses. Medical doctors are over-prescribing opioid painkillers at alarming rates and over the last decade have been strictly monitored because of the amount of abuse that has transpired. In fact, fatal overdoses have quadrupled in the last 15 years and opiates now cause more deaths than any other drug, over 16,000 in 2010 alone. Prescription opiates are also very costly to society, increasing health care and criminal justice costs to the price of $55.7 billion in 2007!
The problem that stems from popular opiates such as Vicodin and Oxycontin is that they were created to treat severe chronic pain. For the people who need these medications they were life-changing. Many professionals feel that doctors are prescribing more opiates in the United States than they should be. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over-prescribing is so out of hand that there are enough prescriptions written each year to give every American adult a bottle of opiate painkillers.
State and Government officials are attempting to try and reduce the amount of prescriptions written each year. This will be done by targeting use for patients for people only in severe chronic pain, rather than moderate. In July 2012, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts began requiring prior authorization for more than a 30-day supply of opiate medication within a two-month period. After 18 months, the insurer estimates it cut prescriptions by 6.6 million pills.
Almost all of states in the US have or plan to have a drug monitoring program in place. These databases track the prescribers and users of medications. Although not all states require doctors to check the monitoring system before prescribing opiates, New York and Tennessee do. Both of these states saw remarkable declines in patients who received duplicate prescriptions from different doctors. This practice is known as doctor shopping and is a very popular pathway for overuse and overdose.
To address the opiate abuse issue costs society a lot of money, but evidence suggests that it would pay for itself. Recently in New England states, the Comparative Effectiveness Public Advisory Council conducted analysis of expanding opiate treatment. The analysis found that as access to treatment grew, total costs of treatment grew as well but savings to society grew even more. The results concluded that more treatment equals more savings. For example, New England states could save $1.3 billion by expanding treatment of opiate-addicted patients by 25 percent.
It is obvious that the opiate epidemic is a major concern for every state. The amount of help out there is not enough to battle the current problem. The main reason for the under provided care is the lack of money put aside by state governments to tackle the issue. The study done clearly shows that states need to spend money to save money in the long run. More treatment for those in need leads to less of a financial burden on society.