By Addia Wuchner
Most Kentuckians don’t have to look far to find someone who has been impacted by the prescription drug abuse and heroin epidemic. It has taken a devastating toll on our communities and families while overwhelming our health care and legal systems.
This presents a complex challenge for Kentucky caregivers, law enforcement, lawmakers and community leaders who share a common goal of fostering the public good. How do we protect access to opioid medicines many Kentuckians legitimately need while discouraging the misuse and abuse that leads so many individuals to spiral downward into drug addiction?
Prescription opioids provide a much-needed benefit for those dealing with severe pain. But, there is potential for abuse if they are not used and stored properly. Sadly, the journey to addiction often begins when someone raids a medicine cabinet and pops a pill that was legitimately prescribed for someone else.
When merely ingesting the pills is no longer enough, many addicts learn to get a better high by crushing and snorting or even diluting and injecting the opioid medications. When the pill bottle runs out, many addicts fall even further down the rabbit hole by turning to criminals dealing cheap, highly addictive and readily available heroin.
This is the deadly journey from the medicine cabinet to the streets as another Kentuckian falls into the ever-expanding illegal drug market. We need to stop this deadly spiral before it begins. But, how can we combat prescription drug abuse while ensuring that legitimate patients can still access the medications they need?
This is where new technology developed by the pharmaceutical industry and supported by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) comes into play.
Abuse-deterrent opioids (ADOs) are reformulated versions of common opioids or pain medications, like hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine and others. ADOs utilize innovative, built-in technology that makes tampering more difficult while still addressing the legitimate medical needs of patients who need pain relief. When an individual attempts to crush an ADO, the pill becomes gel-like, rendering it ineffective for snorting, injecting and smoking.
ADOs may not be the end-all solution to combating prescription drug abuse, but they offer an innovative approach to combating and preventing addiction.
As a nurse and legislator, I have been advocating for abuse-deterrent opioids for years. I have been joined in this effort by Kentucky’s federal delegation—Senator Mitch McConnell, Congressman Andy Barr and Congressman Hal Rogers—all of whom have been instrumental in pushing the FDA and pharmaceutical manufacturers to move forward.
Despite the benefits of ADOs, insurance companies in Kentucky are not required to cover them, meaning they are often substituted for a cheaper, non-abuse-deterrent pain medication. In fact, many health plans often disregard the physician’s decision to prescribe an ADO, which is always made in the best interest of the patient and their community.
Allowing insurers to disregard a health care professional’s decision can be dangerous under any circumstances. But when it comes to potential abuse of a powerful opioid pain medication, it should not be allowed.
On February 2, I introduced House Bill 330, which would require insurance companies to cover ADOs when prescribed. It also would prohibit insurers from employing barriers like step therapies or fail first requirements that limit access.
This is not a partisan issue; it is a commonsense solution. I am honored to have the support of my democrat co-sponsor, Representative Joni Jenkins, along with the support of 12 other female members of the Kentucky House of Representatives.
While there are often many issues that divide us, we stand united on combating prescription drug abuse in the Commonwealth. We have put forth this piece of legislation to equip Kentucky caregivers with another tool that will ultimately save our neighbors, friends and loved ones from going down the painful, deadly path to addiction.
HB 330 deserves a vote during the 2016 session of the Kentucky General Assembly. Please join me in encouraging my colleagues in the General Assembly to move this important piece of legislation to passage.
Join us as we strive to be part of the solution in combating addiction in our Commonwealth.