BEND, Ore. (AP) — A proposed change to the state's Medicaid program aims to reduce the overprescribing of opioids, which has caused an epidemic of overdoses, Oregon officials said.
The proposal would limit coverage for five broad chronic pain conditions to 90 days of opioid pain relievers, The Bulletin reported Wednesday.
It would also taper off patients who have been taking opioids long-term from those medications within a year.
In turn, it would introduce alternative treatments previously unavailable under the Oregon Health Plan.
"Individuals with chronic pain really face debilitating conditions that impact quality of life, yet we're faced with this significant opioid epidemic where we know there's a lot of misuse and overprescribing," said Dr. Dana Hargunani, chief medical officer for the Oregon Health Authority. "We're trying to use evidence to guide us, but we really welcome public input into the process.
Many chronic pain patients have voiced opposition to the proposal. Alternative treatments don't work for everybody, they said. They believe the decision to limit opioid medications should be made by physicians, not a government agency.
Currently, the Oregon Health Authority does not cover treatments for fibromyalgia, chronic pain syndrome, chronic pain caused by trauma, other chronic postprocedural pain and other chronic pain.
Many patients suffering from those conditions are being prescribed opioids, according to the government agency. Because the agency has no way of knowing if the patients are being prescribed those medications for chronic pain conditions or for a covered service, it can't simply decline to cover those prescriptions.
Instead, they plan to cover alternative treatments such as yoga, acupuncture or physical therapy, while scaling back the use of opioids.
Steve Hix, a 50-year old Albany man, who was left almost completely bedridden by spine and back injuries, pushed through the pain to join a protest against the proposed opioid restrictions outside the government agency in Salem earlier this month.
"I'm very sad for the people who OD'd," Hix said. "But what's that got to do with me?"
Chronic pain patients are planning to voice their concerns to a benefits subcommittee of the Health Evidence Review Commission, which will be considering the proposal at its Aug. 9 meeting.
Information from: The Bulletin, http://www.bendbulletin.com