Every day, 115 Americans die due to opioid overdoses and about 40% of these deaths are due to overdoses of prescription drugs. According to the National Institutes of Health about one-quarter of the millions of patients taking these medications for chronic pain, misuse them.
The agency that manages healthcare for California’s massive state workforce has reported, a major reduction in opioid prescriptions. This reflects a national trend of physicians cutting back on the addictive drugs.
Insurance claims for opioid prescribed to help people manage pain have decreased by almost 19% in a single year among the 1.5 million Californians served by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.
CalPERS manages health benefits for employees and retirees of state along with local agencies and public school, and their families. Doctors have reduced the daily dose and duration of opioid treatment. Also, the number of users who were prescribed large doses dropped 85% in the first half of 2018 as compared to the same period in 2017, according to new CalPERS data.
Beth McGinty, an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said that these reductions are substantial. They reflect a reduction in the over-prescribing practices that have driven opioid epidemic in the U.S. She said but, it is unclear as to how the reductions in prescriptions are affecting the patients.
CalPERS has made efforts for more than a decade trying to reduce prescription opioid use among its enrollees.
They work with health insurers and other state agencies to identify doctors who prescribe abnormally high amounts.
Dr. Patrice Harris, president-elect of the AMA and chair of its Opioid Task Force said that the focus on reducing opioid prescribing has created a large void in access to pain care.
Even as insurers limit use of opioids, they haven’t thought about increasing access to other pain care options. When policymakers solely focus on limiting access to prescription opioids for pain relief without increasing non-opioid options, it will result in increased patient suffering.