Tag Archives: Nevada opioid problem

It’s A National Emergency, we think…

Since his attempt to revive Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign in the face of a crisis in the increased addiction to opioid drugs in this country fell flat,  Dear Leader appeared to suggest the problem is a matter of law enforcement — a major mistake.  The genesis of the issue comes from the over-prescribing and over use of opioid medication once advertised as “virtually addiction free.”  Indeed, Purdue Pharma is still facing litigation from the state of New Hampshire over its advertising of Oxycontin. This, in addition to the 2007 guilty plea from the corporation for mislabeling the drug, and the payment of  $634.5 million to resolve a DoJ investigation.  Meanwhile, Nevada holds its unfortunate position in the top ten states when counting opioid death rates.  There were 224 overdose deaths in 2014, another 259 in 2015 [CDC] related to natural and semi-synthetic opioids; Nevada’s statistics were more bleak citing some 465 opioid related deaths in 2015.

Since we probably can’t arrest our way out of this mess, in Nevada or anywhere else, the answer in the long run is prevention (better guidance for physicians and tracking, combined with better public education on the nature of opioid addiction) and treatment.  And, for treatment, people have to have a way to afford it.

Medicaid has been a Godsend for many suffering through an opioid addiction.

“The authors of the report (Urban Institute) draw a parallel between the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and spending on addiction medications, saying it has brought addiction treatment to previously underserved populations.

“What we saw was this gigantic, rapid, ongoing expansion in treatment,” says co-author Lisa Clemans-Cope. “It was particularly fast after 2014 when the big Medicaid expansion came into play. There’s definitely an effect of people getting access to treatment. That’s the primary driver of growth of spending.”

So, Medicaid spent more on treatment after 2014 – because more people were in a position to afford the treatment programs available to them.  Therefore, the next time a Republican politician stands before us with plans to slash Medicaid spending, and turn the Medicaid program into a block grant lottery for the states, we might well ask:  What does your proposal do to assist the states, like Nevada, deal with the treatment expenses of individuals trying to cope with opioid addiction and who are seeking assistance to make that treatment affordable.

Gee, the states are supposed to “benefit” from greater flexibility?  Would that be the flexibility to choose between supporting special education children with speech and physical therapy and opiate addicts?  Or choosing between the needs of the families of opiate addicts and the severely disabled?  Or choosing between the needs of opiate addicts seeking treatment and women seeking mammograms and other cancer screenings?  Santa doesn’t come without some expense.

Somehow the Republicans have managed to entangle themselves in their own rhetoric.  We can cut taxes, expand the military, all by cutting social safety net programs, and still have money for fighting opioid addiction in this country!  Santa will bring us tax cuts and another Santa will keep Granny in the skilled nursing facility, help cousin Elwood find a job in a new industry, make sure the family can get immunizations, cancer screenings, treatment for acute and chronic medical conditions, and insure that the Interstate Highway System is continually maintained.

It’s Jude Wanniski’s Two Santa Theory — a position only definable as something coming from an opiate induced delusion:

“Unfortunately, Mr. Wanniski opened Pandora’s box when he let loose the two-Santa theory. Republicans are now bound to it, whether they know it or not. As Keynes once put it, “Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.”

**For more information: See the following excellent articles in the Nevada Independent — “Another side of the opioid heroin crisis,” “For Many Governors…” “As Out of Control opioid epidemic rages..”

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Filed under Economy, health insurance, Medicaid, nevada health, Nevada politics, Politics

Physicians Could Use A Bit Of Healing in Nevada: Opioid Prescription Problems

oxycontin  The Reno Gazette Journal has done a piece of highly recommended reporting – an in-depth account of opioid prescribing in Nevada.

“…a Reno Gazette-Journal analysis of DEA data showed that for certain drugs, Nevada ranks among the highest in the country.

Take oxycodone, Nevada’s most widely prescribed opioid. In 2012, nearly 1.04 million grams was distributed via retail in the state. That’s more than double what doctors prescribed in 2006. Nevada’s distribution rate is third highest in the country.

Nevada also ranks third for its hydrocodone distribution rate. In 2012, doctors prescribed more than 799,000 grams of hydrocodone — nearly three times the rate of New Jersey, which has triple Nevada’s population.”

OC pill There are some important points to take away from the article.  One of the first is that physicians, themselves, have opposed greater oversight of opioid distribution to patients, specifically in regard to SB 459.  One physician testified to the Assembly Committee on Health and Human Services that SB 459 sections 1-12 should be adopted, but the rest of the bill including reporting and medical education requirements should be dropped because it wouldn’t prevent overdoses. [AHHS pdf] Another doctor offering testimony “went there,” comparing the regulation of opioids to Nazi Germany:

“When people come to Las Vegas and need surgery or have chronic conditions and they hear that the climate here is like Nazi Germany in terms of regulations, the tightening of prescription pain medications, and the prosecution of doctors, it has a very chilling effect on these people who need those medications. […] there are folks who have chronic pain. I am an internist and I see this every single day. I sit there arguing with them about cutting their medications down and they start crying and throwing a fit because they need it.”  [AHHS pdf]

He continued:

We pull the DEA reports now and, as a private practitioner with a two- or three-man office, it creates a lot of extra work for my staff and more
documentation. It makes me pause every time I start to write a script for any controlled substance; I should not have to feel like that. At the end of the day, the doctor and the patient have the relationship, not the government in the middle. Doctors should be the ones who decide what is best for their patients. This bill has a chilling effect on that. [AHHS pdf]

The good news is that the language requiring that a doctor check the prescription drug monitoring database before writing a prescription for a narcotic to a new patient was retained in the bill.  However, the testimony presented should cause some alarm from members of the general public.

OC pill

As the article points out, a state with one third of the population of another probably shouldn’t be prescribing three times the amount of narcotic painkillers.

The argument that the state legislature shouldn’t try to do something to mitigate the problem if the proposal won’t fix the entire problem sounds altogether too analogous to the NRA’s arguments for doing absolutely nothing to prevent guns getting into the hands of felons, fugitives, and domestic batterers.  “If it doesn’t solve the whole problem, then it shouldn’t be done.”  The second piece of testimony is, itself, chilling.

Hyperbole rarely provides productive content in a civic discussion, and Godwin’s Law applies.  Bring up Hitler, and the audience moves along assuming the argument has been abandoned.  Secondly, it’s a bit more than disturbing that a licensed physician would be argued into prescribing medication he or she knows is deleterious or even dangerous for a given patient.

OC pill

No one wants the Hot Potato.  The state pharmacy board doesn’t want to use its database to flag doctors who are over-prescribing narcotics.  Their director: “Who’s to say what’s normal or what’s OK,” Pinson said. “It might be appropriate for a physician to be prescribing a ton of narcotics according to his specialty.” [RGJ]  It might be, and then again, it might very well not be. And the Board of Medical Examiners isn’t enthusiastic about clearing out their ranks either:

“It would be inappropriate, and it’s not the intent of the (prescription monitoring program), to find cases to investigate,” said Edward Cousineau, executive director of the Board of Medical Examiners, which licenses medical doctors and investigates malpractice complaints in the state.” [RGJ]

Again, we might ask: Why isn’t it appropriate to weed out physicians who are creating a situation in which Nevada is among the top five states for opioid pushing? Perhaps the next session of Nevada’s Assembled Wisdom will find the intestinal fortitude to (1) require that the Pharmacy Board use its drug monitoring database to look for BOTH doctor shopping patients and pill pushing physicians; and (2) more thoroughly investigate drug overdose deaths. 

OC pill

Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, and Arizona have enacted such legislation. [RGJ] Nevada should join them.

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Filed under health, Health Care, nevada health, Nevada legislature, Pharmaceuticals, Politics, public health