Drug-related death rates in America have been rising faster than ever, partially due to a spike in opioid abuse, according to a report from the The New York Times. Although opioids are a doctor-prescribed class of pain medication, the CDC estimates that more than a whopping 90 Americans die every day from the often illegally obtained drugs. Because abuse has risen so quickly, particularly of OxyContin, health insurance provider Cigna—one of the largest in the nation—will stop covering most prescriptions for it starting January 1, according to CNN.
OxyContin is an opioid painkiller that’s highly addictive due to its higher concentration of active ingredients, making it a black-market prescription drug of choice for many, which ultimately contributes to the national drug crisis in America right now.
Cigna’s solution, though, isn’t to stop treating the pain: Not only will the insurance company still consider distributing OxyContin prescriptions when they’re deemed necessary (which hardly seems like a scientific marker need, BTW), but it will also suggest a different drug—Xtampza ER—which features what CNN calls “abuse-deterrent properties.”
Really addressing the opioid epidemic is “about increasing access to non-opioid treatment for chronic-pain patients.” — Walid Gellad, MD
Whether Xtampza ER will be a sufficient replacement drug is yet to be determined, though. Walid Gellad, MD, and co-director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing told CNN that Cigna’s new policy doesn’t completely mitigate the chances of addiction or drug abuse. Dr. Gellad also noted that really addressing the opioid epidemic is “about increasing access to non-opioid treatment for chronic-pain patients.”
So, no, Cigna isn’t solving the American opioid epidemic, but it’s certainly taking a first step in the right direction.