Prescription rule changes during pandemic lead to concerns about opioid abuse, fraud

Prescription rule changes during pandemic lead to concerns about opioid abuse, fraud
Opioid overdoses are more likely to get the coronavirus. (COX MEDIA GROUP)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The coronavirus pandemic could be putting people struggling with opioid addiction at even greater risk, according to a new report.

The Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report that said changes to prescription rules may be opening up opportunities for abuse and fraud.

“A number of rules related to telehealth and the prescribing of opioids have been relaxed in response to COVID-19 to ensure greater access to legitimate prescribing during the pandemic,” the report said. “These changes may unintentionally increase the risk of doctor shopping and inappropriate opioid prescribing in 2020.”

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In March, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced it was allowing “temporary exceptions” during the coronavirus pandemic.

The DEA is now allowing doctors to take a photo or a fax of a physical prescription to send to a pharmacy and they have more time to submit it.

The OIG report also highlights a warning from the National Institute on Drug Abuse that says people who abuse opioids have a higher risk of deadly overdose because of how the virus affects the respiratory system.

“We have an even greater crisis. Some people are calling it a twin epidemic to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Courtney Hunter, Vice President of State Policy for Shatterproof, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the addiction crisis in the U.S.

Hunter said the telehealth services offered during the pandemic have been a positive solution for many people struggling with addiction during the pandemic.

“We actually welcome telehealth because there’s less stigma for patients who are struggling with substance abuse disorder to actually seek care,” Hunter said. “We need to make sure that people are connected. We need to make sure that there’s access to care, access to Naloxone.”

The report found that before the pandemic, there had been a steady decline in the use of opioids by Medicare recipients over the last several years.