HHS aims to tackle opioid abuse in 2017, raise provider awareness

The Department of Health and Human Services considers opioid abuse a top focus area in 2017.

In a review of its top performance and management challenges, the Department of Health and Human Services counts opioid abuse and other issues surrounding prescribing medications among its focus areas in 2017. 

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The agency notes that physicians prescribed “commonly abused opioids” to nearly a third of Part D beneficiaries in 2015. Raising awareness among providers remains a priority, per the report, as does supporting programs that provide physicians with alternative approaches to pain management.

While the agency also expressed concern about abuse of noncontrolled drugs, HHS has prioritized educational efforts to raise provider and pharmacist awareness around drug interactions with opiates. In a similar vein, the agency said doctors need to stay on top of trends involving the abuse of noncontrolled drugs in conjunction with opioids.

Drug diversion has also become a bigger driver of Medicare and Medicaid prescription drug fraud charges. According to government data, the Medicaid Fraud Control Units recovered $4.3 million related to drug diversion in fiscal 2015, underscoring the need for physicians to tighten up their prescribing practices.

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HHS highlighted the continuing rise in spending for prescription drugs in both the Medicare Part D and Medicaid programs. The rise in Part D spending has drawn attention to the relatively small number of doctors generating a disproportionate percentage of the expenses, in part due to higher prices for specialty drugs.

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HHS is advocating for a set of efforts to address the challenges driving these cost rises, starting with increased attention to its oversight of the programs, with an eye toward collecting and analyzing data more effectively.