In Colorado, there is a new approach to combating the growing, nationwide opioid epidemic. Their Medicaid program is currently “reducing the amount of opioid painkillers it allows its recipients to receive, which is part of a growing campaign to restrict how many of the highly addictive drugs are in circulation.”
In theory, this makes sense. Opioid drugs are high in circulation, which means they are easy to get: both legally and illegally. The harder it is for patients and non-patients to get them; the less likely people will become addicted to them. Or so the theory goes. But will a pilot program like this really work?
The policy has not officially begun yet. It is set to roll out this month and will take place in two phases. The first, “which goes into place in August, applies to Medicaid recipients who are prescribed opioids for the first in time in at least a year.” This phase of the policy will limit the patients to only having a seven-day supply to begin with, and only two additional one-week refills possible. The refills will only be possible if the patient him or herself requests them.
The goal of this phase of the program, according to Dr. Judy Zerzan, the chief medical officer for the Colorado’s Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, is to reduce the amount of patients who become addicted to pain pills. Because physical addiction to painkillers is a slow process which doesn’t happen overnight, the theory remains that slowing down the initial process of handing out large quantities of addictive painkillers will prevent the patient from becoming addicted too quickly.
The second phase of the pilot program will reduce the “total dosage of opioids that all Medicaid patients can receive.” In other words, Medicaid patients will be less able to receive higher dosages of prescription painkillers. Instead of getting a prescription bottle of 30 with 3 refills, they may get a prescription bottle of 15 with 3 refills.
Of course, there are a variety of factors that will help this program work, and some that will cause it to fail. Most patients who become addicted to prescription painkillers are not themselves addicts, but are in fact physically dependent on them. In other words, these types do not seek out to abuse prescription narcotics, they get addicted by accident. Hence, this is the majority of the cause of the opioid epidemic across the nation today. This pilot program will help people like this because they do not have addictive tendencies to begin with.
There is a second group of people, those suffering from addictions to drugs and alcohol, which are probably best off if they stay away from painkillers like this all together. Having less prescriptions, or lower quantities will not affect their potential to abuse these medications. Addicts may have a legitimist pain problem, which requires medications, but they also have the tendency to abuse a substance regardless. This pilot program will probably do nothing to help these people. It is akin to moving a liquor store three miles away from the alcoholic, or taking the beer out of the fridge of the alcoholic’s home. They will find a way to get to the liquor store, or to buy beer somewhere else. Addicts always find a way to get their fix, if they are not looking to recover.
This pilot program will reduce the maximum amount of opioid dosages per day, which is still well above the federal guidelines put in place last year by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. However, pain patients and advocates for opiate treatments have said that limiting this number too much will prevent patients from receiving the proper pain treatment that they need to live normal lives.
The policy hopes to “reduce overdoses and deaths, since patients were more likely to overdose if prescribed over 300 MME (a specific dosage) per day.” An advocate of the program explains that “there was definitely a trend that the more opiates you were on, the greater your risk of death.”
Will this pilot program for Medicaid patients prove to be successful? It is probable that it may prevent non-addicts who accidently become addicted to painkillers from becoming physically dependent. It is less likely to affect those with addictive tendencies who are bound and determined to find the fix that they need in the depths of their addiction. However the results play out, it will be interesting to see if a pilot program on this small of a level in Colorado could have a bigger affect on the national discussion on the opiate crisis across the nation.
Do you struggle with an addiction to opiate prescription pain medication? Are you embarrassed or ashamed of your addiction? Don’t live in fear or secrecy anymore. Contact Linda Rose at 949-558-4723 today at Footprints Behavioral Health. Start your roadmap towards recovery now!