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STUDY: drugs that help people addicted to opioids are more difficult to obtain


by Keaton Thomas, KATU News


The opioid epidemic has grown. The chances of you dying from an accidental overdose of opioid drugs are greater than those of a car accident. Still, researchers at Oregon Health & Science University say it is more difficult to obtain a potentially useful medication for people with opioid use disorder.

The drug we are talking about is called buprenorphine. Doctors say it helps prevent withdrawal symptoms.

Researchers from OHSU published their study in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Tuesday. They reviewed the Medicare Part D insurance plans and found that 89 percent of the plans covered unrestricted buprenorphine in 2007, but that it was reduced to 35 percent in 2018.

Buprenorphine is covered by most insurance plans, according to the OHSU study.

Dan Hartung, the lead author and professor of the School or Pharmacy OSU / OHSU, told KATU. The restrictions of the news could mean that a patient can not get his prescription for a few hours or a few days.

He estimates that there are 300,000 people with opioid use disorder with Medicare Part D.

"This is critical for these people to have access to this medication because they may be vulnerable to re-use illicit drugs, relapse or things like that," Hartung said. "Any delay like this is going to be problematic for patients."

The authors wrote: "The reasons for the restrictions on buprenorphine may reflect inaccurate perceptions of drug risk, social norms related to the stigma of addiction or financial considerations."

Todd Korthuis, who specializes in the treatment of addiction at OHSU, says that buprenorphine helps people with opioid use disorder feel normal again.

"It frees them from that change of ups and downs with the use of heroin and allows them to get their lives back," Korthuis said.

Korthuis generally recommends that people use buprenorphine for about a year. He says that people can use the "cold turkey" or use buprenorphine to detoxify quickly, but it is not as effective.

"Cravings often return immediately, the risk of overdose and death from their next use of heroin increases dramatically." Buprenorphine removes that by creating a normal situation, such as the one that would create insulin for someone having an episode of diabetic hypoglycemia. said Korthuis.

Cathryn Donaldson, spokeswoman for America's Insurance Insurance Plans, a defense group of health insurance companies, told KATU News that everyone should have access to the drugs they need.

The main restriction cited in the study was prior authorization for the medication.

Donaldson said in a statement: "Medical management tools, such as prior authorization, mean the safe and effective use of MAT. These tools can also ensure that the patient's progress is monitored and that the treatment plan is adjusted when necessary. It is important to keep in mind that medical management approaches may vary between health insurance providers and between private insurance and public programs. "

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