Lack of options drives health care providers to prescribe opioids

June 30, 2017

Opioid overdoses claim 91 lives a day, and nearly two-thirds of these deaths are attributable to prescription pain killers.

At times blame for this tragedy has fallen on the health care providers who write opioid prescriptions. But in a recent opinion piece for The Hill, two Rush University College of Nursing faculty members believe this blame is sometimes misplaced.

Melissa Kalensky, DNP, FNP, assistant professor, and Mona Shattell, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor and chair of the Department of Community, Systems and Mental Health Nursing, detail how lists of drugs covered by private insurance companies and public entities such as Medicaid and Medicare dictate what providers can and can’t prescribe to patients for pain management.

These lists contain limited non-narcotic options. Likewise, effective non-medication options are often cost prohibitive, with little or no coverage by insurance. And while there are genuine instances of those overprescribing or fraudulently prescribing opioids, in other cases well-meaning providers, who are ethically obligated to treat pain, can only prescribe what a patient can afford.

But at least one large entity, the Department of Veterans Affairs, is exploring alternatives to medication to help treat its service member patient base, many of whom are returning from active duty with chronic pain and other ailments.

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