Searching for Answers in the Wrong Places

Twenty U.S. Senators joined forces to pen a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell on the national strategy to prevent opioid abuse.  Among their grievances with the plan in development, the senators urged Secretary Burwell to integrate naloxone into the treatment process for overdoses. Naloxone works by temporarily halting the symptoms of an overdose, allowing medical professionals to intervene before it’s too late.

Sadly, they are looking for the answers in all the wrong places.

Yes, making naloxone available to patients can be an important component of limiting overdoses. However, to reduce harm from opioids, we need effective alternatives to opioids to be covered by insurance. Under the current Medicare and Medicaid systems, many safer therapies that help alleviate pain symptoms are not covered.

In addition to spending money in the development of this program, we should also spend more money on research to find alternative therapies to opioids.  The number of people in severe pain only will increase with more baby boomers entering the Medicare market, a population that is one of the highest at-risk groups for opioid overdoses.

We must remember that there is a significant difference between opioid use by people in pain and those who illegally use prescription opioids. Trying to reduce the amount of opioids for illegal use without providing patients who face legitimate chronic pain issues with alternative treatment options is a cruel and inhumane approach to solving the opioid abuse problem. Hopefully this reality won’t be lost on the other 80 U.S. Senators.

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