As our nation grapples with a growing opioid addiction through the abuse of heroin and prescription medications, Louisiana is taking a series of aggressive steps to save lives and prevent addiction. And those measures are making significant impacts on multiple fronts: the number of prescriptions written for opioids and the total number of actual opioid pills prescribed have dropped drastically. According to the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy which administers the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PMP), since implementing Medicaid expansion both the total number of opioid prescriptions and the total number of opioid pills prescribed have decreased from the year prior to expansion. Additionally, the number of opioid pills prescribed by Medicaid for first time users is down by more than 40 percent.
These improvements are due to a focused effort by Governor Edwards, who has made addressing this epidemic a top priority, the Louisiana Department of Health which implemented the Medicaid policy changes and Louisiana legislators who voted for new laws that limit opioid prescriptions.
In fact, tighter prescription limits have reduced the number of opioids being prescribed to all patients across the state, not just Medicaid patients. The PMP now shows a nearly 14 percent decrease in the rate of opioid prescriptions per 100 citizens in Louisiana, and an approximately 13 percent decrease in total opioid prescriptions since 2013.
This critical issue of life and death should be one that all of us – from every political party and level of government to community organizations and members of the public – work together to solve. Unfortunately, Atty. General Jeff Landry and some opinion writers in Louisiana continue to play political games by making false claims that blame Medicaid expansion for this crisis. Their untrue claims are based on the inherently flawed assumption that because more people are now covered by Medicaid expansion, more people are getting a prescription for opioids. This simply isn’t true, and the data proves that. In fact, thanks to Gov. Edwards’ decision to expand Medicaid, more than 7400 people have received outpatient substance use treatment and more than 8300 people have received inpatient care and treatment.
In addition to working with the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy to track the number of prescriptions and the total number of pills prescribed, the Department of Health is also working to improve surveillance to enhance data collected on drug overdoses and deaths. Improving the way this information is gathered is critical to our ongoing strategy to enhance treatment, provide life-saving medications, and provide education for all Louisianans. As we continue moving forward to reduce the amount of opioid use, abuse, overdoses and deaths, we recognize the first responders, health care providers, community leaders, family members and all of those who join us to educate and provide care to others. Together, we will continue to save lives.
Dr. Chaunda Mitchell
Director of the Louisiana Office of Drug Policy