America’s health insurance industry continues to reel from prescription drug abuse, a federally classified nationwide crisis costing tens of thousands of lives and billions in healthcare-related dollars.
In fact, the National Safety Council calls prescription painkiller abuse “the worst drug epidemic today,” costing health insurers up to $72.5 billion annually in direct health care costs.
Recently, there’s been activity on Capitol Hill by federal lawmakers who are intent on thwarting the problem.
For instance, Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., launched the aptly named Prescription Drug Abuse Caucus to raise awareness “about helping the millions of American families whose lives have been torn apart by prescription drug abuse.”
Among its targeted efforts, the bipartisan caucus plans to partner congressional members with a variety of stakeholders to produce “innovative and effective policy solutions” that address prevention and treatment, according to the senators.
One of those stakeholders will be the health insurance industry, which has seen private health insurance companies and Medicare pass on the associated costs of prescription drug abuse to consumers in the form of higher health care premiums, mostly to cover treatment and prevention.
“This is a problem we must tackle from every angle,” Scott said when launching the caucus May 22.
Such a multi-faceted approach also is needed to attack a problem that seems to be coming from many directions, the lawmakers say.
For example, a new study this month from the University of South Carolina shows that 17 percent of college students misuse drugs prescribed to people diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Controlled substances such as Ritalin and Adderall are being abused by students who don’t have prescriptions for them, the study also says.
At the same time, law enforcement across the country is seeing more raw opium available on the streets to make heroin, an easier and cheaper remedy to replace the abused prescription drugs that are becoming harder to get.
And once prescription drug abusers seek out drugs like heroin, they put their lives at risk. Scott said that with 17,000 Americans losing their lives to prescription opioid overdoses every year – or 46 Americans every day – “America must refocus its priorities to fight prescription drug abuse.”
“Ignoring the problem is simply unacceptable,” Manchin said. “We have a responsibility … to stop the scourge of prescription drug abuse.”
Manchin added that in their work, caucus members also will take into account the perspectives of family assistance groups and agencies, counselors, consumers, medical educators and professionals, law enforcement, and state and federal lawmakers, among others.
Also in Washington, Sens. Tom Udall, R-N.M., and Al Franken, D-Minn., co-sponsored a bill that would increase patients’ access to prevention services and treatment; improve prescription drug monitoring programs and training programs for medical professionals; and authorize new grants to increase patient assessment and referral for potential drug abuse.
The Increasing the Safety of Prescription Drug Use Act of 2015, S. 636, originally was introduced in 2013. During the current congressional session, the bill has been referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.