Tags: Health Topics | Chronic Pain | TennCare | painkillers | ADP | Tennessee | cover

Tennessee Might Take Risk to Wean TennCare Users Off Painkillers

By    |   Friday, 24 April 2015 06:33 PM

Tennessee Might Take Risk to Wean TennCare Users Off Painkillers
Nashville, Tennessee, pharmacy owner Tommy Malone.
Take a painkiller in pill form like OxyContin.

Grind it, crush it, melt it, and snort it and you get an immediate high.

Take another OxyContin in pill form, this time one that has something called "abuse deterrent properties," which make the texture of the pill so hard you can't even smash it with a hammer.

Tennessee Watchdog tried — repeatedly.

Lawmakers and other state officials may soon consider covering this more-expensive form of medication for recipients of TennCare, the state's version of Medicaid.

While prescription drug abuse affects all classes of people, state figures show it is rampant among TennCare users.

"Abuse of prescription pain relievers is the number one drug problem for Tennesseans receiving state-funded substance-abuse treatment services," said TennCare spokeswoman Kelly Gunderson.

TennCare had 225 arrests and 185 convictions for prescription drug abuse last year, she added.

No one interviewed this week said they could offer exact numbers on how much this costs state taxpayers.

State officials plan to team up with members of the Tennessee Medical Association this summer to get a specific answer, said state Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville.

They also plan to debate whether TennCare should begin paying for pain medications that have ADP properties, Ramsey said.

ADP drugs are available at the Green Hills Pharmacy in Nashville, where owner Tommy Malone told Tennessee Watchdog these drugs have the potential to wean people off an addiction.

According to Malone, if you grind or snort anything it gets into the system quicker through mucosa and provides a more immediate high. If you swallow something, more than half — it can be as high as 80 percent — of what you swallow is destroyed by the gut.

"ADP drugs cost a whole lot more," Malone said, noting they are double or triple the cost of more traditional painkillers.

"You can even go further than that by saying the older the drug, the more available it is generically. So, generically, the drugs will cost 20 or 30 percent of the name brand. If you are going from a generic drug to a new drug delivery system, it will be 700 to 800 percent more."

Malone knows plenty about the dangers of prescription drugs because not only has he practiced pharmacy for 40 years, he's also a recovering drug addict who has maintained sobriety for 22 years.

"There should be a time limit on these things, regardless of who is paying for it, whether it's TennCare or private payers," Malone said, suggesting six months as a reasonable time limit — the amount of time he says it normally takes someone to detox.

Ramsey said he is optimistic the extra costs of these drugs would ultimately save taxpayer money in the long run, even though he believes TennCare recipients should have the ADP drugs a lot longer.

"I can imagine one emergency visit would pay the difference in the price of the drug for probably two years," Ramsey said.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org.

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Take a painkiller pill and crush and snort it and you get an immediate high. Take another pill, this one with "abuse deterrent properties," and you can't even smash it with a hammer. Lawmakers may soon consider covering this form of medication for recipients of TennCare
TennCare, painkillers, ADP, Tennessee, cover, recipients, addiction, addicts
Friday, 24 April 2015 06:33 PM
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