In January 2018, a series of articles were written in the Wall Street Journal by the editorial board, based on a report by a Republic senator, denouncing Medicaid expansion as fuel for the opioid epidemic. One article, rather provocatively titled “The Opioid Dens of Medicaid,” claims that the so-called entitlement is facilitating substance abuse. The GOP has been outspoken about wanting to cut Medicaid, at the same time as they claim to want to curb the opioid crisis. However, evidence shows that Medicaid coverage of addiction services has actually increased the number of people who are receiving treatment.
The WSJ article points to the fact that many opioid addictions begin with prescription painkillers, and then points fingers at Medicaid for offering cheap access to pills that patients can resell on the black market. It describes one case in Connecticut where a drug dealer would pay Medicaid beneficiaries $50 for a $1 prescription and then turn around and sell the pills for up to $3,000.
However, a study published in August in the journal JAMA Network Open says otherwise. The research, conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, compared California, Maryland, and Washington, where Medicaid was expanded under the Affordable Care Act, to Florida and Georgia, where it wasn’t. One of the talking points of the WSJ piece was that the opioid crisis is worse in states that expanded Medicaid as part of Obamacare. (For what it’s worth, the current administration has been looking to dismantle the ACA since before it was even in power.) The Johns Hopkins study found that prescription for the addiction medication buprenorphine combined with the overdose reversal drug naloxone increased significantly in Medicaid expansion counties. In comparison, the number of prescriptions filled for opioid painkillers remained roughly the same after expansion, although more patients paid for those prescriptions using Medicaid.
The truth is, the number of opioid prescriptions being filled has been dropping since 2011. The fact that prescriptions for buprenorphine with naloxone have increased is actually a good sign, as it means that more people are getting help rather than dying from overdoses. Also, without Medicaid, many people who legitimately need opioid painkillers, like those with disabilities or chronic injuries, would be unable to afford them.
40 percent of all U.S. opioid overdose deaths in 2016 involved a prescription opioid. It’s true that it sounds like a lot – and it is too many – but the fact remains that 60 percent of them did not and were instead attributable to drugs like fentanyl and other synthetic opioids and heroin, which aren’t affected by Medicaid one way or the other. The real problem is that number of people who remain unable to receive treatment and the lingering stigma that prevents them from doing so.
If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.