Opioid Medications as Front Page News
The use of prescription opioids for the treatment of acute and chronic pain syndromes has increased significantly over the last 10 years. Abuse of these medications has always been an issue, and there has been increased scrutiny of, and publicity about, the escalation of misuse, abuse, and diversion attending the higher rates of prescription. Recently, the front page of the Wall Street Journal carried an article describing the measures being taken by the federal government in trying to crack down on diversion.
The way the process works, DEA agents review the sales records from pharmacies for opioid medications (the article references Walgreens, but many other pharmacies, including CVS, have been reviewed as well). The DEA looks for various clues, such as the percentage of these medications that are paid for in cash. Using cash as opposed to paying with insurance is a relatively decent indicator that these prescriptions may be diverted to the black market.
This is a regulatory, versus a criminal investigation, and although the DEA can exert pressure to more closely regulate distribution, it isn't yet known what else may be imposed on those stores with a high percentage of cash paying customers.
A key take away from the article is the importance of vigilance and precaution at all levels of the supply chain to prevent drug misuse abuse and diversion. The healthcare professional who prescribes the medication, the pharmaceutical company that develops the medication, the pharmacy and pharmacist who provide the medication, and ultimately, the patient who takes it, all have a role and responsibility. There is no question that opioids are beneficial in the treatment of pain, but abuse will also always be an issue. It will be interesting to see what regulatory measures the DEA may enforce if the issue of diversion continues to worsen.
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