Looking Honestly At Opioids

A recent article in the New York Times pointed out a serious problem for disabled people seeking to alleviate pain – Opioids!

Narcotics, such as Percocet, Vicodin and Oxycontin, are strong and may be addictive.  Yet, they are being prescribed more and more for injuries for which they are not appropriate. In effect, they are “overkill” and pose a danger to the patient.

The NY Times article tackled the difficult challenge of health care these days – cost.  One insurer, Accident Fund Holdings, claims that when medical care and disability payments are combined with the use of a narcotic like Oxycontin, the cost is nine times higher than when the injury is treated with a non-narcotic.

Accident Fund put the average insurance cost of a disability claim at $13,000, but when  Percocet-like drug was prescribed, the average cost of the claim tripled to $39,000.  When a drug, such as Oxycontin, was prescribed, the average cost of the claim shot up to $117,000!

This increase in costs is attributed not only to the higher cost of the drugs, but also to the common side effects, such as drowsiness, lethargy and addiction.  Such side effects do not facilitate a person trying to overcome a disabling illness or injury.

Some of these consequences can be attributed to the drug companies which aggressively market their products while keeping the downsides of taking them under wraps.   Others can be attributed to the public which believes the ads and wants relief NOW and damn the consequences.

Perhaps the most important factor, often overlooked, is that health insurers are much more willing to pay for cheap, generic pain medications than for the costly therapy which is likely to be more effective in helping the patient to recover.

The problem is that such an approach is short sighted and leads to claimants whose symptoms have increased in severity and in length of disability because of opioids.

Some insurers are finally seeing the light and trying to limit the use of these drugs to only cases in which they are appropriate.

 States, such as New York, California and Washington, are proposing rules to curb unrestricted use of these drugs, to cut down on the possibility of addiction or other unwanted effects.

Use of opioids can have serious, unwanted consequences.  It’s time doctors, insurance companies, government and people with disabilities took a good, long serious look at them.

Note:  In response to this problem, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts just announced that as of July 1, it will no longer permit physicians to write opioid prescriptions for more than 30 days without a mandatory review by the insurer, except  in cases of chronic conditions, cancer or for the terminally ill.



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