Drug Laws, Obamacare, & Prescription Drug Abuse: What You’re Not Being Told, by Alice Salles

US health care law is creating an incentive for physicians to prescribe drugs, particulary opiates, that are often abused. From Alice Salles at theantimedia.org:

(ANTIMEDIA) A report released recently by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows one in every 20 Americans misused prescription painkillers last year. This discovery is particularly relevant because the drug war, combined with changes to U.S. health care law, may have helped exacerbate the so-called opioid epidemic.

In 2015, an estimated 119 million Americans older than 12 used prescription psychotherapeutic drugs — a term used in the SAMHSA report to refer to “pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives,” though pain relievers were the most commonly used.

Researchers used that estimate, along with the data gathered from 68,000 surveys to produce the report. According to the report, “[a]ll estimates (e.g., percentages and numbers) presented in the report are derived from NSDUH [National Survey on Drug Use and Health] survey data.”

SAMHSA found the use of prescription psychotherapeutic drugs “in the past year was fairly common in the United States,” with about 44.5 percent of the population claiming to use prescription psychotherapeutic drugs in 2015.

The report also found one in every “14 Americans older than 11 misused or abused the drugs” and that about 2.7 million people, or at least 1 percent of the adult U.S. population, “have a prescription drug use disorder.”

While the report seems to confirm the increase in opioid use among Americans in recent years, it also unveils another seldom discussed point.

According to SAMHSA, “[a]mong people aged 12 or older, an estimated 18.9 million misused prescription psychotherapeutic drugs in the past year, representing 7.1 percent of the population.”

SAMHSA classifies “misuse” as any “use of prescription drugs that were not prescribed for an individual or were taken only for the experience or feeling that the drugs caused.”

The vast majority of those who misused the drugs claimed to have obtained them from a friend or family member, as shown in the graph below.

Among those who sought access to opioids without actually needing them, 36.4 percent reached out to a doctor or stole the prescription from a health care provider.

According to Time, changes to U.S. health care law may have helped give patients addicted to opioids an easy way to go back to the hospital for more.
“As part of an Obama­care initiative meant to reward quality care,” Time’s Sean Gregory writes, “the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is allocating some $1.5 billion in Medicare payments to hospitals based on criteria that include patient-­satisfaction surveys.” Some of the questions found in these surveys include: “During this hospital stay, how often did the hospital staff do everything they could to help you with your pain?” and “How often was your pain well controlled?”

To physicians who handle Medicare and Medicaid patients and refuse to fill in prescriptions when they ask for a particular painkiller by name, a defiant stand may lead to less funding or a loss of earnings.

“The government is telling us we need to make sure a patient’s pain is under control,” Dr. Nick Sawyer, a health-­policy fellow at the UC Davis Department of Emergency Medicine, told Gregory. “It’s hard to make them happy without a narcotic. This policy is leading to ongoing opioid abuse.”

What started as an effort to help officials better gauge the quality of health care services, Dr. Sawyer appears to contend, may have led to a greater problem among patients who have become addicted to painkillers.

To continue reading: Drug Laws, Obamacare, & Prescription Drug Abuse: What You’re Not Being Told

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