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Abuse-deterrent opioids debate pits financial cost vs. human cost

Jon Jimison
The Wilson Times
29 March 2016

RALEIGH — An N.C. House Select Committee studying the practice of step therapy by health insurance companies last week focused on barriers to access to abuse-deterrent opioids, a topic gaining some attention with rampant reports of opioid abuse.

In North Carolina, there were 1,358 overdose deaths due to opioids in 2014, and the number of drug overdose deaths, a majority from prescription drugs, has doubled in the past 15 years, according to Centers for Disease Control statistics.

"Abuse-deterrent opioids include a reformulation that makes abuse of prescription pain medications more difficult by making it harder to chew, crush, cut, grate or grind the pill and resist extraction of the opioid from the formulation using solvents like water or alcohol,” said Fred Brason II, CEO of Project Lazarus, a non-profit organization formed in Wilkes County in response to high overdose death rates there.

These drugs are more costly than generic pain pills and can be more difficult to access through some health plans. One committee member said he wasn’t in favor of any legislative mandate that results in higher costs.

Several community leaders and medical professionals testified in support of reducing barriers to accessing abuse-deterrent opioids that they believe are a tool to helping curb prescription opioid abuse they say leads to heroin use.

Brason took a hammer to a regular pill on a cutting board and it easily turned to a fine powder. From there, an abuser can add water and inject it or snort it…