Responsibility for Opioid Problem Still not Being Placed on Physicians

Medicare Set-Aside Blog on May 18, 2012
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I was reading in workcompcentral this morning that Congress is investigating big pharma and medical groups for improperly convincing physicians to prescribe more opioids. You know, that’s big business and, while unscrupulous, not a surprising practice. They’re in it to make money, and apparently, they expect people to take personal responsibility for misusing their products. But isn’t the fundamental issue that physicians still wrote the scripts? Prescribing high doses of narcotics does not solve anything, yet they do so very freely. Even if their trade organization tells them it is ok, they should know better just from all their medical training and witnessing what it does to their patients. The underlying source of pain is still there and, if it can’t be fixed, then learning to cope with pain would certainly be far more productive than masking it and causing all of the subsequent problems such as sleeplessness, hypersomnia, constipation, depression, tooth decay, addiction and occasionally overdose. We need to control the writing of the scripts, not the marketing of the drugs because sanctioning big pharma for its marketing indiscretions doesn’t solve anything. In 2008, Cephalon was fined $425 million for promoting the off-label use of Actiq for generalized pain, yet four years later I am still finding it in MSAs at the now off patent price of about $40 per lollipop and average use of three per day. Actiq is FDA approved to treat end-stage cancer pain, yet when my aunt was dying of cancer, not only did she not get Actiq but she had trouble getting her doctor to increase her Oxycontin prescription from 5mg to 10mg. If only she had been on comp…

Senators Grassley and Baucus are known champions of the Medicare program and through their efforts have unveiled millions of dollars worth of Medicare fraud. From a home health fraud to discovering a physician who performed nearly 600 unnecessary cardiac stent procedures, their efforts have improved public safety and the fiscal integrity of Medicare. But the focus here seems misplaced. No matter who told them to do perform the surgeries or prescribe the drugs, the physicians remain at the crux of this epidemic. Much like the pain itself, let’s try to fix the source and the rest just might work itself out.

Click here for more information on the Senate Finance Committee investigation.