Understanding the Opioid Epidemic

prescriptionEven though overdose deaths linked to prescription opioids have more than quadrupled since 1999, many people do not really understand what opioids are. To clarify, opioids are a class of drugs including heroin and prescription narcotics such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine, morphine and other chemically related drugs.

These drugs, often prescribed because of a medical condition, cause a stimulus in the brain that helps individuals cope with anxiety, depression and other life-altering events. While they are usually fine when taken as prescribed for a short time, they are too often misused or taken without a prescription because they produce euphoria in addition to relieving pain. Prolonged use can lead to dependence and misuse can lead to overdose and death.

Signs of Addiction to Look For
Patients can range in age from pre-teen to elderly and from all walks of life. While each case is different, some common signs of potential misuse or abuse among young people include: a loss of interest in usual activities, changes in appearance, a lack of concern for grooming and hygiene and changes in eating and sleeping habits. Withdrawal symptoms that can occur after stopping or reducing use include negative mood, nausea or vomiting, muscle ache, diarrhea, fever and insomnia.

Many hospitals, municipalities and public entities offer awareness forums or support groups for those dealing with substance abuse. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Discovery Education have published an online Parent Toolkit, available at operationprevention.com.

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Safe Disposal of Unused Medications

Prescription-drugsIf you’ve stopped taking a prescription, you’ve probably forgotten about it. This can cause a problem when unused or outdated medications just sit around. Disposing of medications can be safe and convenient, especially since guidelines were established by the Controlled Substance Act of 2014. While regulations can vary from state to state, here are five safe ways you can dispose of your leftover medications.

Medication Take Back Programs. These take back programs have been run by the Drug Enforcement Administration for 15 years and have been effective. Local events are often held on a quarterly basis, while the DEA hosts an annual National Drug Take Back Day.

Police & Pharmacy Drop Offs. Pharmacies throughout the country have been adding medication disposal boxes to their stores. If you can’t make it to a pharmacy during store hours, police stations are a 24/7 option. Before you drop off the medication, use a permanent marker to cover your personal details, but leave the medication information visible in case the contents need to be identified.

Submit Them for Incineration. If your pharmacy does not have a drop-off box, ask if they can help you send your medications off to be incinerated. The pharmacy will provide you with an envelope, which you can safely ship to the destruction site.

Destroying Your Medications. If you choose to throw away your medication with your regular trash, there are ways to prevent harmful medications from getting into the wrong hands. Pour liquid into the bottle to destroy the meds or make them impossible to take by pouring kitty litter or coffee grounds into the bottle. While not the case for every medication, flushing the medication down the toilet is the safer option. The eco-toxicological impact is negligible, and the risk of misuse is too high to just keep them around.

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Helping with Prescription Adherence

doctor patient talkingWhile prescribed medications are critical to the management of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, asthma or heart disease, they can only help when taken correctly and research shows that at least half are not taken as prescribed. This not only has a huge impact on the health of individuals but on health plan costs since failure to take medications as prescribed can result in costly emergency room visits and hospital readmissions.

Since failing to follow a doctor’s prescription plan will likely result in higher dollar claims for treatment, examining claims data is the first step to take in order to monitor this problem. Once the employees involved are identified, a health coach or support team can be assigned to help these individuals begin managing and taking their medications correctly. If cost is an issue, which is fairly common in the case of chronic problems, financial incentives or help with prescription copays might be wise.

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How To Save On Prescription Drug Costs

Health care costs, which include everything from hospital and doctor bills to the cost of pharmaceuticals, home health services, etc., consume more than 16% of the nations economic output. At the current growth rate of over 7% per year, costs can be expected to consume almost 20% in the near future. Prescription drugs represent the most rapidly expanding component of health care expenses, with a double digit rate of inflation approaching 11%.   Continue reading

Cutting Costs Without Cutting Corners

Most doctors are trained to make patient-care recommendations without regard for cost. This can be a problem. Such was the case for one physician’s patient who returned for his next visit without having gotten tests and medications the doctor ordered. “I couldn’t afford them,” the patient said, embarrassed. Had the doctor known, he could have discussed doing without the test along with prescribing a low-cost generic medicine. Continue reading