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In a rising variety of states, sufferers who get opioids for critical ache might depart their docs’ places of work with a second prescription — for naloxone, a drug that may save their lives in the event that they overdose on the highly effective painkillers.
New state legal guidelines and rules in California, Virginia, Arizona, Ohio, Washington, Vermont and Rhode Island require physicians to “co-prescribe” or at the least provide naloxone prescriptions when prescribing opioids to sufferers thought-about at excessive threat of overdosing. Patients will be thought-about at excessive threat in the event that they want a big opioid dosage, take sure different medication or have sleep apnea or a historical past of dependancy.
Such co-prescribing mandates are rising as the most recent tactic in a struggle in opposition to an epidemic of prescription and unlawful opioids that has claimed tons of of hundreds of lives over the previous twenty years.
The Food and Drug Administration is considering whether or not to advocate naloxone co-prescribing nationally (an FDA subcommittee not too long ago voted in favor), and different federal well being officers already recommend it for sure sufferers. And the businesses that make the drug are supportive of the strikes. It’s not exhausting to see why: An FDA analysis estimated that more than 48 million additional naloxone doses can be wanted if the company formally really useful co-prescribing nationally.
Most states have restricted the quantity of opioids docs can prescribe at one time and dramatically expanded entry to naloxone. In California, for instance, pharmacists can provide naloxone on to customers who’re taking unlawful or prescription opioids or know somebody who’s.
In the states with co-prescribing guidelines, sufferers aren’t required to fill their naloxone prescriptions, and people with most cancers or who’re in nursing properties or hospice usually are exempted.
Kristy Shepard of Haymarket, Va., was shocked to discover a naloxone prescription ready for her not too long ago when she went to the pharmacy to select up her opioid meds. Her first intuition was to not fill it. She did so solely after the nurse in her physician’s workplace pressured her to. The physician had by no means talked to her about Virginia’s new co-prescribing regulation, she mentioned.
“It’s so silly. I didn’t feel like I needed it. Unless I plan to hurt myself, I’m not likely to overdose,” mentioned Shepard, 41, a registered nurse and hospital administrator who can not work and has utilized for incapacity advantages.
But it is probably not as troublesome as some folks suppose to overdose on prescription painkillers.
“You can take pain meds responsibly, and you can be at risk for an accidental overdose even when you’re doing everything right,” mentioned Dr. Nathan Schlicher, an emergency medication doctor in Washington state and a member of the state hospital affiliation’s opioid job power.
Two million Americans have an dependancy to prescription painkillers, in line with the FDA. And practically 218,000 people within the U.S. died from overdosing on them from 1999 to 2017, in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During that very same interval, prescription opioid deaths rose fivefold, the CDC knowledge present.
In California, docs wrote nearly 22 million opioid prescriptions in 2017 and 1,169 people died that 12 months from overdosing on prescription opioids. Common prescription opioids embody Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, morphine, codeine and fentanyl.
To counter this pattern, “states are scrambling for any policy lever they can find,” mentioned Kitty Purington, senior program director on the National Academy for State Health Policy.
Even earlier than the state mandates, ache specialists thought-about it good follow to prescribe naloxone together with opioid painkillers for some sufferers, notably these with a historical past of substance abuse.
Doctor lobbying teams usually resist authorities guidelines concerning their follow, however medical associations in some states supported or at the least remained impartial on naloxone co-prescribing mandates.
The firms that make the drug have spent tons of of hundreds of dollars collectively lobbying for his or her pursuits on the state degree.
Kaléo, which makes the naloxone auto-injector Evzio, spent $77,200 in 2017-18 lobbying California lawmakers on payments increasing entry to naloxone, together with the state’s co-prescribing regulation, which requires docs to supply prescriptions for naloxone to high-risk sufferers who get opioids.
In December, Kaléo introduced a lower-cost generic model of the injector after a Senate investigation discovered the corporate had raised the worth of its branded model 600 p.c from 2014 to 2017, to $four,100 for 2 injectors.
One benefit of the co-prescribing guidelines is that they foster necessary doctor-patient conversations concerning the dangers of opioids, mentioned Dr. Farshad Ahadian, medical director on the UC San Diego Health Center for Pain Medicine.
“Most providers probably feel that it’s better for physicians to self-regulate rather than practice medicine from the seat of the legislature,” Ahadian mentioned. “The truth is there’s been a lot of harm from opioids, a lot of addiction. It’s undeniable that we have to yield to that and to recognize that public safety is critical.”
But some docs — to not point out sufferers — have reservations concerning the new necessities. Some physicians say it will likely be practically unattainable for states to implement the mandates. Others fear that prescribing naloxone to sufferers who dwell alone is ineffective, as a result of it usually should be administered by one other particular person — ideally one who has been educated to do it.
Patients worry that naloxone prescriptions might unfairly stigmatize them as drug addicts and trigger life insurers to disclaim them protection.
Shepard, the disabled Virginia nurse and a mom of 4, mentioned she worries that her naloxone prescription might have an effect on her possibilities of getting extra life insurance coverage — a urgent query, she mentioned, as her lupus worsens over time.
And a Boston-area nurse who labored at an dependancy remedy program was turned down by two life insurers just because she carried naloxone for her sufferers.
The determination to prescribe naloxone “is something that should be between a doctor and a patient, because every situation is unique,” mentioned Katie O’Leary, a 31-year-old film manufacturing firm workplace supervisor who lives in Los Angeles and was identified with complex regional pain syndrome about 5 years in the past.
“So many patients already jump through so many hoops to get their meds,” O’Leary mentioned. “And if you live alone and don’t have family or friends to take care of you, the naloxone might not be something that could actually help.”
Opioid dependancy and overdoses are a posh drawback, and naloxone is only one a part of the answer, mentioned Dr. Ben Bobrow, a professor of emergency medication on the University of Arizona College of Medicine.
“In the past, pain was the fifth vital sign; we thought we were doing a bad job if we were undertreating pain,” Bobrow mentioned. “Inadvertently, we were harming people. We ended up getting all these people hooked. Now it’s our job to help them find other [ways] of treating their pain.”
California Healthline digital reporter Harriet Blair Rowan contributed to this report.
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