CDC urges providers to consider risks of opioid treatments

Although opioid prescriptions declined for five years since a peak in 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the highest-prescribing counties dispensed six times more opioids per resident in 2015. The CDC urges providers to consider evidence-based guidance for opioid prescriptions and weigh the risks and benefits of such treatment with patients.

Demographics

According to the CDC’s Vital Signs report, a breakdown of the number of opioids prescribed per person in 2015 by county revealed considerable variation, with clusters of high-rate counties located in various places across the country. The CDC believes that the variation reveals inconsistencies among providers who prescribe opioids. Counties with higher prescribing tended to have small cities or large towns, more white residents, more dentists and primary care providers, a higher rate of uninsurance or unemployment, and more people with a chronic condition like diabetes or arthritis, or a disability.

Issues

The CDC identified three specific issues with high prescribing that pose risks for patients. In 2015, there were enough opioids prescribed to keep every American constantly medicated for three weeks. This level of prescription may indicate that providers need to consider more non-opioid treatment options, such as physical therapy and other medications, and only use opioids when the benefits are most likely to outweigh the risks.

Even for those on low doses, taking an opioid for more than three months increases a patient’s risk of addiction 15 fold. When treating acute pain, opioids should only be prescribed for the expected duration of severe pain. In addition, a dose of 50 morphine milligram equivalents (MMEs) or more per day doubles a patient’s risk of overdose death. The CDC believes that the average daily MME per prescription remains too high.

Resources

The CDC recommends continuously balancing risks and benefits throughout opioid treatment, from the starting prescription through dosage increases. The agency’s Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain outlines when a provider should initiate or continue opioids for chronic pain, treatment options, and risks and harms of opioid use.

Kusserow on Compliance: OIG testifies regarding Detroit investigation results

The HHS OIG provided testimony before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight, describing their work in Detroit to protect Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries and to fight health care fraud from the field agent’s perspective. The OIG typically conducts investigations in partnership with other Federal and State agencies, as well as the private sector. Often investigations are part of the Detroit-based Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which combines the resources of Federal, State and local law enforcement entities to prevent and combat health care fraud across the country.

The OIG receives complaints or investigative leads from a variety of sources, including the OIG hotline, law enforcement partners, beneficiaries, providers, and informants. Traditional means of identifying fraud include conducting interviews of cooperating witnesses and surveillance. The schemes investigated range from billing for services not actually performed to organized criminal enterprises. The perpetrators of these frauds can range from highly respected physicians to individuals with no prior experience in the health care industry. The OIG highlighted some major areas of where they have been focusing, including:

  • Home and community-based services. Home and community-based services, including personal care services (PCS), which are particularly vulnerable to fraud, with investigations resulting in more than 350 criminal and civil actions and $975 million in investigative receivables for fiscal years 2011 – 2015.
  • Unnecessary prescriptions. Physicians write medically unnecessary controlled substance prescriptions in exchange for cash or submission by a patient to medically unnecessary services.
  • Prescription drug fraud. Enforcement action against and prevention of prescription drug fraud is a major priority to address a rapidly growing national health care problem, and an opioid epidemic with 678 pending complaints and cases involving Medicare Part D, which represents a 152-percent increase in the last 5 years.

The OIG employs data analytics and real-time field intelligence to detect and investigate program fraud and to target our resources for maximum impact. They also reported being a leader in the use of data analytics, employing a dedicated data analytics unit. The OIG also has direct access to Medicare claims data and use innovative methods to analyze billions of data points to identify trends that may indicate fraud, geographical hot spots, emerging schemes, and individual providers of concern. Testimony summarized the OIG national investigative results during the period of 2013 through 2015, as follows:

  • $11 billion in receivables, or money ordered or agreed in settlements
  • 2,856 criminal actions
  • 1,447 civil actions, and
  • 11,343 program exclusions.

Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

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Copyright © 2016 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.