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Could anti-abuse pills curb opiate addiction?

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Posted at 4:07 PM, Sep 17, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-17 16:07:02-04

Ohio health insurance companies could soon be required to cover the expense of opiates designed to make it harder for addicts to smash or grate the pills, leading to a quicker, more intense high. 

State Representatives Robert Sprague (R) and Nickie Antonio (D) touted bill, currently in committee, at a news conference Thursday, saying that they believe making these drugs more affordable will help fight against the epidemic.

The abuse deterrent pills are formulated with a coating that makes it more difficult to smash or grate into a powder. Many opiates are ingested by snorting or being dissolved and injected to give the user a quicker, more intense high.

To demonstrate, the representatives brought out a hammer and attempted to smash the pills at the news conference – and they remained whole. 

“Some have chartered the increase of drug overdose deaths in Ohio at over 440 percent. A 440 percent increase between 1999 and 2012,” Antonio said. “This bill we’re talking about today is just one tool in the toolbox in the way to address this issue and hopefully reduce these deaths.”

The bill is currently in the House Health and Aging Committee. It does not mandate that doctors prescribe the specialized medication -- it only requires that insurance companies cover the cost of the medication, which is often more expensive than traditional pills.

Dr. Michael Bourn, the medical director of Pain Management Services at Doctor's Hospital in Columbus, said that dealing with insurance companies is the main frustration in his practice.

 “The decision to use opiates in the care of a patient is really a complex decision that requires real thought,” he said. “To get the best possible outcome, we need to have as few impediments along the way to what we think is the appropriate treatment.”

Bourn said that, under this legislation, doctors would be more likely to opt for the opiate prescription with abuse prevention, given that it would likely be more affordable.

Also in the bill is a provision that would untie patient’s responses on Medicaid doctor evaluations from their doctor’s compensation. Currently, doctors receive higher pay if patients rate them highly in managing pain.

Sprague said this would reduce the incentive for some doctors to over-prescribe pain medication in order to be paid more.

“The largest supplier of prescription narcotics in the state is medical system in the state of Ohio,” Sprague said. “We know that there is a one-to-one correlation between the number of new people becoming addicted and the amount of pain prescription medication coming out of the medical system.”

During the news conference, Cheri Walter, CEO of the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities, praised the legislation.

Though she oversees addiction treatment centers around the state, she said the issue for her was personal. Her mother, who worked as a nurse, recently died at the age of 86.

“My mother was an opiate addict 'till the day she died. My mother did anything she could to get pills, whether it was legal or getting it, at one point in her life, from her patients,” Walter said. “My mom abused opiates. Had there been the opportunity to have some of that abuse deterred, it might have helped.”