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No Pain Act an important step in tackling opioid abuse

One of the unfortunate side effects of the pandemic has been soaring rates of opioid addiction and overdose deaths. There are two ways to address this: one in Congress, which should act to encourage alternatives to opioid paid medication, and one locally, by getting the lifesaving overdose remedy into the hands of more people.

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Opioid addiction is too often the result when a patient is prescribed an opioid to relieve pain from an injury or while recovering from surgery. Generic opioids are a low-cost, effective way to relieve pain.

There are non-opioid alternatives available to relieve pain, either with medication or pain-relieving devices.

Research shows 80% of post-surgery patients are prescribed opioids for pain, and 3 million of these patients become persistent users. In the year ending March 30, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 73,480 overdose deaths, the highest number ever recorded.

In addition, research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that opioid-related hospitalizations cost $2.2 billion a year. The CDC estimates the total economic burden of prescription opioid misuse is $78.5 billion a year.

Many hospital patients prescribed opioids are Medicare recipients. Medicare reimburses hospitals the same amount whether they dispense an opioid or a non-opioid, but generic opioids can be provided at much lower cost. Opioids’ average cost is 15 cents per pill, while non-opioid alternatives run from $100 to $300, depending on the product.

The Non-Opioids Prevent Addiction in the Nation (NOPAIN) Act, reintroduced this year in Congress with 80 bipartisan so-sponsors in the House and Senate, would change Medicare reimbursement rules to stipulate that non-opioid pain management would be compensated at the same rate as opioid pain medication when prescribed for acute pain. The bills in the Senate and House are S. 586 and H.R. 3259.

The details of the costs and how to cover them will be worked out in the legislative process, but it makes sense to encourage non-opioid options for the benefit of patients.

The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that in the first eight months of 2020, 220,000 Medicare Part D beneficiaries each received the equivalent of 16 oxycodone 5-mg tablets every day for three months. Research indicates that 10% of Medicare beneficiaries prescribed opioids following surgery between 2009 and 2015 exhibited persistent opioid use that was not present before surgery.

Opioid abuse is not confined to the over-65 population, of course, but this legislation is one way to address the problem in that group of people. Opioid misuse can results in overdoses, which can be fatal if not treated immediately.

Today is National Overdose Awareness Day. Local efforts to raise awareness and provide remedies include an event that had been scheduled for Saturday but was postponed until

Oct. 23 because of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. Local organization Max’s Mission provides free doses and training in the use of naloxone, an antidote for opioid overdose that can save lives if administered quickly.

See www.maxsmission.org for details.