With opioid-related fatalities on the rise in Florida, it is not difficult to find someone whose life has been affected by overdose. Like many of our fellow Floridians, community pharmacies throughout Florida are concerned about the epidemic facing both our state and our country.
Pharmacy owners and pharmacists want to be able to help patients ensure appropriate pain management does not lead to chronic addiction or increased potential for overdose. It is imperative to provide all patients with protections and options to mitigate those risks.
We are pleased Congress continues to work toward funding various programs to help prevent and treat opioid addiction. One of the best ways to do so is through increased access to naloxone, the opioid overdose-reversing agent, which will help save lives and money. Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries are especially in need of assistance.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Medicaid patients are prescribed painkillers at twice the rate of non-Medicaid patients, and are up to six times the risk of overdosing. Additionally, the inspector general reported 90,000 Medicare beneficiaries are at serious risk for opioid misuse or overdose. These are staggering figures, and as pharmacists, we want to do our part to protect Medicare and Medicaid patients from becoming another statistic.
One key solution is through naloxone co-prescriptions for certain CDC-recommended patients in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Co-prescriptions allow pharmacy owners and pharmacists to distribute appropriate prescriptions for opioid medications alongside an overdose reversing agent, encouraging the prevention of an accidental fatality. A patient’s body mass index cannot predict dosage levels, so when it comes to opioid use, patients’ tolerance levels are not an exact science. Naloxone co-prescriptions arm patients or the caregivers with the best protection from an accidental overdose, while helping decrease hospital visits.
Emergency room visits are costly. In 2013, the National Institute of Health (NIH) reported the median cost was $1,233, and I can only imagine that number has increased over the last five years. It is important to note up to 68 percent of emergency room visits are paid for by Medicaid or Medicare.
But, a 2016 NIH study found patients who received naloxone co-prescriptions had 47 percent fewer emergency room visits in six months, and 63 percent fewer visits after one year, compared to patients who did not receive naloxone. By arming Medicare and Medicaid patients with naloxone, it is safe to say we can reduce hospital visits and therefore decrease overall costs of opioid addiction and overdose. Clearly, we can only benefit from naloxone co-prescriptions.
We all deserve to be safe from opioid overdose and must do our part to protect those especially vulnerable to this deadly epidemic. As Florida’s federal leaders continue to work together to find long-term, effective solutions for opioid addiction, I encourage U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor and Gus Bilirakis to support Medicare and Medicaid co-prescriptions. Florida lives depend on their actions.
Bill Mincy is the vice president of the PPSC, one of the oldest and largest pharmacy service firms in Florida.