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Health Plans Join Prescription Painkiller Abuse Battle

Christopher Cheney, for HealthLeaders Media, May 7, 2014

Background facts provided in the statement paint a dire picture of opioid abuse: "The use of oxycodone and other narcotic painkillers, often as a route to heroin addiction, has been on the rise for the last few years in Massachusetts. At least 140 people have died from suspected heroin overdoses in communities across the Commonwealth in the last several months, levels previously unseen. From 2000 to 2012, the number of unintentional opiate overdoses increased by 90 percent."

In April Patrick went so far as to order a ban on a new painkiller, Zohydro, until officials can "safeguard against the potential for diversion, overdose and misuse." Zohydro is a long-acting form of hydrocodone. (Vicodin is a short-acting form of the drug.) Federal and state officials, including Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) and 29 attorneys general, are urging the FDA to reconsider its approval of Zohydro. The drug's maker says it is working to develop an abuse-resistant formulation of the drug.

Meanwhile, the Mayor of Martha's Vineyard hopes his governor can walk the fine line between cracking down on the minority of patients who abuse or divert painkillers, and the majority of patients who need pain medication to cope with arduous suffering.

"The percentage of people who take these drugs and abuse them is miniscule compared to people getting good treatment," The Mayor told me, adding a backlash against painkiller prescriptions is already having a chilling effect in the medical community. "They're just afraid for their jobs."


Christopher Cheney is health plans editor at HealthLeaders Media.
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