Combating Opioid Abuse: How Health Insurance and Opioids Are Linked
With the opioid crisis that America faces, people have been looking to find who is to blame. The majority of the blame thus far has been placed on the pharmaceutical companies for bringing millions of prescription opioids to places like West Virginia. Not only has the blame for opioid abuse fallen to the “Big Pharma” companies, but so has the subsequent heroin abuse that usually follows. However, the link between health insurance and opioids is beginning to surface showing that pharmaceutical companies are not the only villains in the crisis that America faces with opioid abuse.
Scope of the Opioid Crisis
The national problem of opioid abuse is continuing to grow as statistics are revealed. In 2015, the rate of drug overdoses that resulted in death was 16.7/100,000. This rate rose sharply by the following year with as many as 19.9/100,000 people dying from drug-related overdoses. Of these, 60 percent are linked to the abuse of opioids. The CDC reported that around 91 Americans lose their lives every day because of opioid abuse. In 2015, 33,091 people died from an opioid overdose.
The Health Insurance and Opioids Link
One of the opioid epidemic causes is believed to be as a result of what the health insurance companies are promoting. Instead of encouraging the use of less-addictive alternative pain relievers, health insurance companies continue to promote the use of cheaper, more addictive opioid pain relievers. The less-addictive counterparts are generally more expensive. This fact came to light through the work of a New York Times investigation into the opioid abuse crisis.
Publicly, spokesmen for one of the largest health insurance companies, UnitedHealthcare, insist that they are promoting the use of less-addictive alternatives even though the investigation into 36 million prescriptions pointed to the contrary.
A major health insurance and opioids link are revealed when looking at some of the alternative treatments for conditions such as back pain and arthritis. Exercises such as yoga or a back massage can help to treat a patient suffering from these conditions; however, health insurance plans do not cover these forms of treatment. Opioids are covered in these cases and thus patients continue to receive opioid prescriptions.
Another example of the promotion of less-expensive opioids comes in the form of Butrans and lidocaine patches that contain buprenorphine. Both are less risky alternatives to traditional opioid pain relievers but they also require that a patient receive prior approval to be able to get them. Other commonly prescribed opioids required little to no prior approval. Analysis of the approval system found that the health insurers have placed additional obstacles for people trying to get approved for the less-risky alternatives.
Thus far, insurers have just changed the number of opioids that are supplied to a given patient and made medications to treat opioid addiction more accessible. This leaves one of the biggest opioid epidemic causes in place: the easy access to prescription opioids. A person who needs relief from chronic or severe pain while trying to lobby their insurance company to offer alternatives as part of their plan simply give up and resort to taking the opioids that are available.
The link between health insurance and opioids is becoming clearer as a possible solution to the opioid abuse crisis is being looked for. Each sector involved with the supply of opioids must be examined in order to better understand the problem and how to create a solution.
If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.