Feb 4, 2020 - Health

Large gaps in opioid treatment remain for rural areas

Areas hit hardest by the opioid epidemic still struggle with access to buprenorphine, used to treat addiction according to a recent report by the Department of Health and Human Services' internal watchdog.

Where it stands: The federal government has expanded the list of which providers can prescribe buprenorphine, as well as the number of patients those providers can treat.

Yes, but: Authorizing more providers to prescribe the drug doesn't do much to solve, for example, provider shortages in rural areas. And some providers who are authorized to prescribe buprenorphine just aren't doing so.

  • Most authorized providers don't see the maximum allowed number of patients.
  • 40% of U.S. counties don't have any authorized providers, and another 24% have low treatment capacity. Most of these counties are rural, and there's plenty of overlap with the counties hit hardest by the opioid epidemic.
  • Even in counties that appear to have average-to-high treatment capacities, that could be misleading — especially in large counties where an authorized provider may be located far away from the patient.

The bottom line: Even though we're making progress against the opioid epidemic, we've still got a very long way to go.

Go deeper: More opioid companies facing criminal probes

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Opioid death rate in the U.S. decreased in 2018

Data: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Center for Health Statistics; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Opioid deaths in the U.S. decreased in 2018 after years of steady increases, while the U.S. life expectancy ticked up for the first time in four years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday.

Between the lines: The effort to combat the opioid epidemic appears to be working, although the problem is far from solved.

Go deeperArrowJan 31, 2020 - Health

Electronic health record vendor took kickbacks from opioid maker

A fictitious electronic medical record. Photo: Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Electronic health record company Practice Fusion will pay $145 million after federal prosectors said the vendor accepted $1 million in kickbacks from an unnamed opioid manufacturer, and in return, Practice Fusion engineered its software to encourage more prescriptions of that company's opioids.

Why it matters: Several Practice Fusion executives not only booked the kickbacks as revenue, but also agreed to help peddle more of the company's painkillers during the height of the country's opioid epidemic that has killed tens of thousands of people.

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Keep ReadingArrowJan 28, 2020

Social mobility may explain life expectancy gap between rich and poor

A pharmacy technician grabs a bottle of drugs off a shelf in 2018. Photo: George Frey/Getty Images

Social mobility — the ability to move up the income ladder — can help explain the gap between the life expectancies of the rich and the poor, according to a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine.

What they found: Counties with higher social mobility tend to have smaller life expectancy gaps between the rich and poor, and the poorest people in those counties live longer.

Go deeperArrowJan 22, 2020