Haslam ‘working group’ to consider banning long-term opioid prescriptions for some on TennCare

Gov. Bill Haslam says he’s putting together a “working group” to consider changes in state laws and regulations dealing with opioid abuse, including a ban on long-term prescriptions of the powerful and addictive painkillers for many TennCare patients, reports the Times Free Press.

“Should we ever be long-term prescribing opioids in TennCare in a non-cancer situation? That’s a question we’re going to explore,” Haslam said last week. “There’s a lot of things we think we can do. So we’re going to put together a working group there.”

He spoke after returning from a Chattanooga event where U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price sought to highlight the nation’s opioid crisis and the Trump administration’s approach to battling it.

Tennessee ranks No. 2 nationally in the share of opioid prescriptions per capita, and is near the top in overdose deaths.

Chattanooga is 20th among the worst 25 cities in the U.S. for opioid prescription abuse. Johnson City, Tenn., ranks ninth. Jackson, Tenn., ranks 22nd.

The governor said the “working group” includes the heads of Tenn-Care, the departments of Health and Mental Health and Substance Abuse, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and others.

“We’re not going to defeat this on the supply side,” Haslam said. “There’s too many ways for the ‘bad guys’ to win in terms of getting drugs in people’s hands. So we’re going to have to beat it on the demand side. And I think that means having a lot more treatment options available as well as prevention.”

But state Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, a retired registered nurse and health administrator, urged the governor to exercise caution.

“I think we have to be very careful of putting together a group unless we have physicians who are still practicing” with specific knowledge about intractable pain issues, Favors said.

While Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner is a physician, as is Tenn- Care head Wendy Long, Favors said they “have been out of the practice of medicine for several years and it does not take long to not be up to date. We want to have people who are actually practicing.”

“I wish we had something other than the opioids,” Favors said, but added that for people with chronic pain, such as someone with degenerative joint disease, it’s the only relief they can find.

Note: See also The Tennessean’s report on a study that found more than half of all painkiller prescriptions issued nationwide go to adults with mental health disorders. Excerpt:

While adults suffering from depression, anxiety and mood disorders represent just 16 percent of the nation’s population, they received 51 percent of all opioid prescriptions.

Researchers at the University of Michigan and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center said that rethinking pain management among this group is “critical” to combat a growing national opioid addiction epidemic — one that has hit Tennessee particularly hard.

Tennessee leads the nation in the number of opioid prescriptions per person and has a five-year overdose death toll that has climbed to 6,036 people.

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