A new study shows that nearly 30% of all opioid prescribed lack a documented reason to justify the addictive drugs, CNN reports. For about three out of every 10 patients (28.5% of prescriptions), there was no record of pain or a pain-related condition. Those who conducted the study are concerned, and cannot determine if the cause was inappropriate prescribing of opioids or lax documentation.


With the opioid crisis in full swing, the new study could help lead to stricter prescribing guidelines. The study notes that opioids were prescribed in almost 809 million outpatient visits over a 10-year period, with 66.4% of these prescriptions intended to treat non-cancer pain and 5.1% for cancer-related pain. The near 30% missing data does not necessarily mean that doctors were prescribing opioids for no reason.

CNN reports:

“‘For these visits, it is unclear why a physician chose to prescribe an opioid or whether opioid therapy is justified,’ said Dr. Tisamarie B. Sherry, lead author of the study and an associate physician policy researcher at RAND.

Sherry and her colleagues, who analyzed data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey for 2006 through 2015, say the most common diagnoses at doctor visits that lacked medical justification were high blood pressure, high cholesterol, opioid dependence and ‘other follow-up examination.’

Opioid dependence, which accounted for only 2.2% of these diagnoses, cannot explain why a doctor failed to give an adequate reason for prescribing addictive painkillers.”

We’ve covered how prescription drug costs are growing faster than any other costs in healthcare, and opioids are no exception. According to this study by the FDA, branded opioid prices have been steadily increasing over the past 5 years. With nearly 30% of opioids lacking explanation, it drives the costs up for those who do need it – and those who have nothing to do with it. Recent studies show how much profit there is in opioid – a report from Kaiser Health News shows that addiction to OxyContin means big bucks for maker Purdue Pharma. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer recently raised prices on 100 drugs in July, the type of move that is made possible when measures like value-based pricing benchmarks aren’t considered. These drugs cost us all. A 2016 FAIR Health study found that opioid-related treatment caused a sharp rise in the cost of health insurance over the last five years. FAIR Health found that the cost of medical charges for opioid patients grew from $72 million in 2011 to $722 million in 2015. (That’s a whopping 1,000 percent increase.) Medical services such as office visits and lab tests for patients with an opioid dependency also rose from roughly 217,000 in 2007 to about 7 million in 2014. And as the basic economic law of supply and demand teaches us, the higher the demand, the costlier things become — especially things like healthcare.

If guidelines for obtaining opioid prescriptions are strengthened, some are concerned that those addicted will move online to attain illegal medications. The article notes that the study could lead to stricter prescribing guidelines, which in turn could give rise to "unforeseen consequences." Illegal channels, like shady online pharmacies or purchases through identity theft, mean that for those battling the crisis, there is another obstacle to face. But if physicians take steps to document their reasons for prescriptions or even reduce prescriptions, it could be a step in the right direction.

Reducing the prescriptions would also mean reducing the accompanying high pharmaceutical prices.

“Sherry said another key finding of her study was that ‘physicians were especially lax at documenting their medical reasons for continuing chronic opioid prescriptions’ despite government guidelines from 2016 recommending ‘periodic formal re-evaluation’ in cases of long-term opioid treatment.

‘It is now more important than ever for physicians to transparently and accurately document their justification for using an opioid so that we can identify and rectify problematic prescribing behavior,’ Sherry said. ‘Our findings indicate that we still have a long way to go to reach this goal.’”

For more on this story, visit CNN.

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