Evidence supports the notion that addiction to prescription painkillers in the United States is at an all-time high. Recent studies show that about seventy-five percent of the pain medication epidemic is due to the misuse of prescription drugs. Contrary to popular belief, pain medication abuse affects people in all age groups. In a recent study done by the Foundation for a Drug Free World, about one in ten high school seniors confessed that they have abused prescription drugs.
Prescription drug abuse is also particularly growing in senior citizens. In a study from 2013, 432,000 citizens sixty-five years and older were reported to misuse prescription pain medication. This number has grown nearly threefold from ten years earlier. A prescription opioid called oxychloride is especially popular in the senior demographic. These are shocking statistics, as evidence shows that opioid abuse could be fatal. Between the years of 1999 and 2013, death by drug poisoning involving opioid painkillers increased by nearly four-hundred percent. Many organizations have attempted to limit the abuse of prescription opioid though prevention and treatment. However, a study found that Medicare plans are dropping certain drugs that are harder to abuse in favor of cheaper prescription drugs. Long-acting prescription opioids were covered by thirty-six percent of Medicare drug plans in 2015, a ten percent drop from forty-six percent just three years before. That being said, OxyContin, an FDA-labeled "abuse-deterrent" opioid, was cut more than any other long-acting opioid.
In 1995, OxyContin was produced as an oxycodone hydrochloride painkiller. Soon after, the drug exploded in popularity after it was found that an addict could achieve a quick "high" by crushing the tablets before snorting or injecting them as "hillbilly heroin." Many users wildly abused the stimulant until 2010, when the manufacturer remade the drug. Making it difficult to harvest the opioid, the reformulated version of OxyContin received an "abuse-deterrent" label by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2013.
Despite this label it has received, OxyContin was included in only 33% of Medicare plans in 2015 - a huge drop from 61% in 2012. Most plans suggest that they do not consider the "abuse-deterrent" label relevant. Instead, a generic hydrocodone drug lacking the "abuse-deterrent" label is covered by almost 100% of the plans. This generic hydrocodone is significantly cheaper than it's competitor, OxyContin. Ringing in at about $28, the generic drug is about 2260% cheaper than OxyContin. This would lead many individuals to believe that money was the only reason for this major cut.
The trend line shows that the medicare drug plans, also known as Part D plans, are choosing generic drugs over the name-brand competitors. Many experts are already seeing this as a potential problem in America. By paying for generic alternatives as opposed to the abuse-deterrent brand, the Medicare plans are, in a way, encouraging the abuse of prescription opioid pain medication. Policy makers trying to limit opioid abuse have to pay more for the big-brand abuse-deterrent versions. As evident by the Part D plans, most policy makers are not willing to make this sacrifice. However, these men and women may need to learn to balance money and safety; as this could lead to more opioid painkiller addictions in America than necessary.