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Senators raise valid concern about U.S. role

Encouraging people in pain to use opioids for relief if there are effective alternatives is, in a word, insane. Yet the federal government does just that, according to two U.S. senators from states hit hard by the drug abuse epidemic.

Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., are familiar with the risks of opioid painkillers. Both their states have been hit hard by the drug abuse epidemic. West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation. New Hampshire is No. 4.

In Minnesota, the drug overdose death rate in 2017 (the last full calendar year available for statistics) was 14.3 per 100,000. The number of overdose deaths was 733. The numbers are from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Iowa, the figures are 11.5 deaths per 100,000 people and 341 deaths. In places like Pennsylvania and Ohio, the number of deaths topped 5,000 for 2017.

The two senators are urging federal Medicare officials to scrap a policy that provides health care providers with financial incentives to use opioid-based pain management treatments, rather than those based on other drugs and/or techniques.

“Under Medicare’s current reimbursement policy, the cost disparity between opioid-based pain medication and non-opioid drugs used to treat post-surgical pain creates a disincentive for providers to use the less addictive, non-opioid alternative,” Capito explained in a press release.

A critical aspect of the battle against drug abuse “is ensuring that the Medicare program does not create a perverse incentive for doctors to continue to prescribe opioids to patients,” the senator added.

Federal officials should look into the complaint by Capito and Shaheen. Uncle Sam should not be promoting use of opioids if viable alternatives exist.

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