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Opioid Prescriptions Drop Sharply Among State Workers

The company that manages well being take care of California’s huge state workforce is reporting a serious discount in opioid prescriptions, reflecting a nationwide pattern of physicians chopping again on the addictive medication.

Insurance claims for opioids, that are prescribed to assist individuals handle ache, decreased nearly 19% in a single yr among the many 1.5 million Californians served by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System. CalPERS manages well being advantages for workers and retirees of state and native businesses and public faculties, and their households.

Most notably, medical doctors lowered the day by day dose and period of opioid remedy: The variety of new customers who had been prescribed massive doses dropped 85% within the first half of 2018 in contrast with the identical interval in 2017, whereas new customers prescribed greater than every week’s provide dropped 73%, in accordance with new CalPERS data.

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“These reductions are substantial,” mentioned Beth McGinty, an affiliate professor within the Department of Health Policy and Management on the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “They signal a reduction in the overprescribing practices that have driven the opioid epidemic in the U.S.”

What’s unclear, nevertheless, is how the reductions in prescriptions are affecting sufferers’ ache, she mentioned.

Every day, 115 Americans die from opioid overdoses, and about 40% of these deaths are attributable to overdoses of pharmaceuticals. About one-quarter of the thousands and thousands of sufferers who take the medicines for persistent ache misuse them, the National Institutes of Health says.

Prescription opioids — that are steadily prescribed for most cancers sufferers and for orthopedic and dental ache — embrace hydrocodone, oxycodone, fentanyl, oxymorphone, morphine, codeine and others.

CalPERS has spent greater than a decade attempting to cut back prescription opioid use amongst its enrollees, working with well being insurers and different state businesses to determine medical doctors who prescribe abnormally excessive quantities. In 2017, OptumRx, which manages CalPERS members’ pharmacy advantages, adopted a policy that features limits on the amount of opioids prescribed and requires prior authorization for some medication.

CalPERS is the second-largest public purchaser of well being advantages within the nation after the federal authorities, and medical tendencies amongst its members are sometimes mirrored nationally.

Indeed, the information exhibiting a decline in opioid prescriptions amongst CalPERS members mirrors a nationwide drop that has been reported in all 50 states.

About 22% fewer opioid prescriptions had been written within the United States from 2013 to 2017, dropping from 251.eight million to 196 million, in accordance with the American Medical Association, the nation’s largest doctor group.

A March examine by researchers on the federal authorities’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed a 13% decline in common opioids prescribed per particular person from 2016 to 2017. Maine, Massachusetts and North Dakota have skilled the most important drops over the previous decade.

One main issue is that many well being insurers have imposed limits on prescriptions, as recommended by the CDC in 2016. The CDC advises medical doctors to prescribe new customers not more than a seven-day provide and to maintain day by day doses beneath the equal of 50 morphine milligrams in an effort to forestall overdoses and new addictions.

In addition, the AMA created a activity pressure in 2014 that has inspired medical doctors to “start low and go slow” and use the medication provided that the advantages exceed the dangers for a affected person. The affiliation is also providing medical doctors education schemes on ache administration.

Opioid medicines act on receptors within the mind and spinal wire to cut back the depth of ache notion, however in addition they activate areas of the mind that set off euphoria, which underlies their potential for abuse.

Declines in prescriptions haven’t but led to reductions in deaths, mentioned Dr. Patrice Harris, president-elect of the AMA and chair of its Opioid Task Force. “Reducing opioid prescriptions is important but will not by itself reverse the epidemic,” she mentioned. “We will reach a tipping point when opioid-related mortality begins to decrease.”

Medical specialists additionally warned of unintended penalties of fewer opioid prescriptions: More individuals might undergo unmanaged persistent ache, and a few might resort to unlawful opioids, comparable to heroin or road variations of fentanyl. About 50 million Americans expertise persistent ache.

“The focus on reducing opioid prescribing has likely left a large void in access to pain care,” Harris mentioned.

Even as insurers set limits on opioids, they haven’t elevated entry to different ache care choices, she mentioned. “If policymakers solely focus on limiting access to prescription opioids for pain relief without increasing non-opioid options, the result will be increased patient suffering.”

The CalPERS knowledge represents a cross part of sufferers all through California who’re enrolled in Blue Shield, Kaiser Permanente, Anthem Blue Cross and different well being plans.

Reductions of their opioid use had been throughout the board: The medical doctors in the reduction of on numbers of individuals taking opioids for lengthy durations of ache, but in addition how a lot individuals took day by day. Prescriptions exceeding two weeks fell nearly 32% from January to June 2017 and the identical interval in 2018. Daily common doses declined 14%.

“These are very positive numbers,” mentioned Kathy Donneson, chief of CalPERS’ Health Plan Administration Division. “But we’re all going to keep working on it. Opioids are still a national crisis.”

CalPERS members are nonetheless being prescribed appreciable volumes of the medication. For occasion, 34,321 sufferers had been prescribed opioids within the first half of 2018, in accordance with the information. Of these, 1,168 had been prescribed doses which are thought of massive — over the equal of 50 morphine milligrams per day.

Health specialists mentioned it’s essential to wean individuals off the medication correctly, stop relapses and guarantee they don’t swap to heroin.

The surest signal of success, Donneson mentioned, will probably be when sufferers with many forms of persistent ache, comparable to knee or again ache, are “kept pain-free in other ways” and when opioids are reserved for sufferers who want them essentially the most, comparable to these with most cancers or in hospice or post-surgery care.

“We’re not there yet,” she mentioned.

This KHN story first printed on California Healthline, a service of the California Health Care Foundation.

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