Tag Archives: prescriptions

Who Funds the Opioid Epidemic (and the Subsequent HCV Epidemic)

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is planning to introduce a bill into the Senate that would require drug makers to report payments that are made to nonprofit organizations and patient advocacy groups (Silverman, 2018). This is an issue that HEAL Blog, as well as the Community Access National Network’s HIV/HCV Co-Infection Watch publication, has repeatedly brought up in our reporting.

Sen. Claire McCaskill

Photo Source: The Washington Free Beacon

State and Federal lawmakers have been attempting to place prescribing and use restrictions on prescription opioid drugs for the better part of two decades. There is a natural opposition that state and Federal lawmakers face from opioid manufacturing pharmaceutical companies, such as Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, the first prescription opioid drug made available and marketed to average consumers rather than for use in palliative care and severe injury. But, that’s not where the pressure on lawmakers ends.

Purdue Pharma logo

Photo Source: Purdue Pharma

Where McCaskill’s proposal comes into play goes back much further, with pharmaceutical companies creating and funding nonprofit organizations to advocate for a single issue: Pain. Pain Advocates, since the late-1980s, have been actively lobbying Congress, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and state legislatures to push for easier access to these powerful drugs. Every time a legislator or the FDA attempts to reign in what was once virtually unfettered access to

Opioid drugs work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other areas of the body and reducing the sending of pain messages to the brain, thereby reducing the feeling of pain. For Pain Advocates who claim to represent patients whose levels of daily or regular pain leave them unable to function normally, these drugs have been seen as necessary for their survival. What drug manufacturers who fought for easy access to these drugs failed to mention (despite knowing from their own research) is that opioid drugs are highly addictive.

I’ve personally encountered several pain advocates whose opposition to my advocacy for opioid prescribing restrictions in the state of West Virginia has been boiled down to this line of thinking: “How am I supposed to be a functional human being without these prescriptions?” In a state like West Virginia, which has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the nation (52 per 100,000) and potentially the highest rate of Hepatitis C (HCV) in the nation (7.2 per 100,000), this comes across to me as them really saying, “My pain is more important than the preventable spread of disease or others’ lives.”

As the rate of new HCV infections continues to rise, in some states like WV, exponentially, is that opioid drug abuse is directly tied to this meteoric increase. In a report from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) National Institute on Drug Abuse, data indicate that the incidence of heroin initiation (beginning to use) was 19 times higher among those who reported prior nonmedical pain reliever use than among those who did not. Further, a separate study cited by the NIH found that 86% of young, urban heroin injectors had used opioid pain relievers nonmedically prior to using heroin, and that their introduction into nonmedical use was characterized by three main sources of opioids: family, friends, and personal prescriptions (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018).

Next week, we’ll take a deeper look at how opioid diversion from legitimate prescriptions can potentially lead to addictions that can increase the risk of acquiring Hepatitis and HIV as a result of Injection Drug Use.

References:

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Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

 

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HCV Prescribing Lags While Prices Soar

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

An article in Newsweek in March 2017 talked about a “…crowded and confusing” landscape for treating Hepatitis C (HCV) that prevents many Primary Care Physicians (PCPs) from prescribing the new Direct Acting Agents (DAAs) to treat the disease (Wapner 2017). The argument posed is that, physicians are “…still too unfamiliar with the regimens to speak with confidence about them,” according to Ira Jacobson, a hepatologist who leads the department of medicine at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in New York. He posits that this discomfort leads them to send patients to liver specialists, or to delay treatment until more severe symptoms arise, the latter of which is a regular pre-requisite on virtually every Prior Authorization (PA) request form.

This argument caught my eye, as someone who writes about and researches coverage for these DAA drugs, as has done so since 2013. One of the most frequent conversations I heard when Sovaldi (Gilead) and Olysio (Janssen) were first released on the market was that there was confusion over which doctors could prescribe them. Unlike HIV, treatments for HCV largely lagged in the ‘completely intolerable’ realm, with patients dropping out of treatment like flies and a success rate of only around 50%. Things, however, have radically changed; the question, then, becomes, “Have doctors?”

Prescription Pad

Realistically, we have a considerable problem, in the United States, with aspiring doctors choosing to specialize, rather than going into general practice, in no small part because it guarantees them higher incomes. Higher incomes for them, however, means higher costs to consumers, in the same way that higher-priced drugs to treat chronic conditions get shunted into the highest pricing tiers. This gets passed along to consumers in the form of higher co-pays for visits ($25 for PCPs; $75 for Specialists), and higher co-pays for medications ($3 for blood pressure medication; $250 for HIV).

This problem extends, also, to prisons and jails – the high cost of treatment serves as a significant barrier to providing inmates with treatment, which presents a larger issue, because inmates have an exponentially higher incidence and prevalence of HCV than the general population (Gloucester Times, 2017). Testing prisoners is expensive, as well, as inmate populations swell, while prison healthcare budgets remain relatively stagnant. Once those prisoners are released back into the general population, if they’re unaware of being infected with HCV or whose infections have gone untreated, they can go on to infect those who are not part of the prison system, are also unlikely to be tested and treated.

Beyond just the cost of co-pays are the long-term costs of PCPs being reticent to screen or prescribe for HCV: failing to address HCV will lead to liver decompensation, liver cancer, kidney diseases and failure, higher HCV viral loads that make spreading the disease easier, jaundice, digestive illnesses, and thyroid issues, none of which are particularly cheap to treat. The host of accompanying side effects of leaving the disease untreated far outweigh the admittedly outlandish prices set by HCV drug manufacturers.

The reality is that any medical doctor who has prescribing privileges can prescribe these new treatment regimens. The vast majority of these doctors also have access to smartphones, all of which have any number of apps designed to compare new drug regimens with existing prescriptions to ferret out counter-indications; there is, in fact, an entire website specifically aimed at finding counter-indications (http://www.hep-druginteractions.org/) that also offers mobile apps. The argument that doctors are unsure of the counter-indications is really rendered moot by the existence of these easy-to-use tools.

With that, the biggest hurdle to overcome, for virtually every party involved, is the cost of treatment, and with the current administration’s funding priorities being…questionable, at best…it’s unapparent if even the existing treatment coverage landscape will exist. We’re hoping for more stable conditions, and less erratic proposals. Until then, we’ll just keep plugging to try and find a solution.

References:

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Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

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