Report: Medicaid patients given opioids to recover from opioid overdoses

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A study by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health reveals that after Medicaid patients experienced an opioid or heroin overdose, they were prescribed additional doses of opioids at high rates.

Opioid use was declared an epidemic and a national emergency. A recent report even indicated that fatal overdoses of opioids are claiming more lives in Virginia than guns or vehicles.

In Pennsylvania, according to PA.gov, the epidemic in the state affects citizens in “every walk of life.”

“Rich, poor, black, white, young, or old – the opioid crisis is unprejudiced in its reach and devastation,” the site states. “At least ten Pennsylvanians die every day from a drug overdose, with over 3,500 overdose deaths in Pennsylvania in 2015 alone.”

The UP Health study evaluated Medicaid claims of overdose in Pennsylvania, from 2008 through 2013. They found that in high rates, fifty-nine percent, individuals aged 12 to 64 – who had experienced a prescription opioid overdose – were given opioid prescriptions after they overdosed, and almost forty-percent of those who overdosed on heroin were also given opioid prescriptions.

The study located 6,013 cases, which included 3,945 individuals who overdosed on prescription opioids, and 2,068 who overdosed on heroin.

“Our findings signal a relatively weak health system response to a potentially life-threatening event,” said the study author, Julie Donahue, Ph.D. “However, they also point to opportunities for interventions that could prevent future overdoses in a particularly vulnerable population.”

As the The Washington Free Beacon reports, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that Medicaid recipients are three times as likely to have a risk of opioid overdose than privately insured individuals. The UP Health report suggests that instead of just prescribing them more opioids, a combination of medication and behavioral therapy would be better.

“Medication-assisted treatment includes coupling prescriptions for buprenorphine, methadone, or naltrexone—medications that can reduce opioid cravings—with behavioral therapy in an effort to treat the opioid use disorder,” the report states. “Such treatment increased modestly among the patients using heroin by 3.6 percentage points to 33 percent after the overdose, and by 1.6 percentage points to 15.1 percent for the prescription opioid overdose patients.”

Donahue further suggests that when patients are seen for an overdose, medical professionals should help patients find addiction treatment programs to reduce the chance of another overdose.

“Based on our data, I do not believe this opportunity is being fully realized,” she said.

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