Health programs should avoid opioid drugs when possible

| 30 Oct 2019 | 02:49

    (AP) Encouraging people in pain to use opioids for relief if there are effective alternatives is, in a word, insane. Yet the federal government does just that, according to two U.S. senators from states hit hard by the drug abuse epidemic.

    Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., are familiar with the risks of opioid painkillers. Both their states have been hit hard by the drug abuse epidemic. West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation at 57.8 per 100,000 people in 2017, the latest year for which data is available. New Hampshire is No. 4, at 37 per 100,000. New York is better, at 19.4 per 100,000, under the national average of 21.7. Still, 3,921 people died of opioid overdoses in this state.

    The two senators are urging federal Medicare officials to scrap a policy that provides health care providers with financial incentives to use opioid-based pain management treatments, rather than those based on other drugs and/or techniques.

    "Under Medicare's current reimbursement policy, the cost disparity between opiod-based pain medication and non-opioid drugs used to treat post-surgical pain creates a disincentive for providers to use the less addictive, non-opioid alternative,'' Capito explained in a press release. A critical aspect of the battle against drug abuse "is ensuring that the Medicare program does not create a perverse incentive for doctors to continue to prescribe opioids to patients,'' the senator added.

    Federal officials should look into the complaint by Capito and Shaheen. Uncle Sam should not be promoting use of opioids if viable alternatives exist.

    The Adirondack Daily Enterprise