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Options, Not Opioids

BY HANNAH COX

May 25, 2017 11:12AM

In case you haven’t heard, the nation is facing an opioid epidemic with 91 Americans dying per day from overdoses and nowhere is this problem more apparent than in Tennessee.

Tennessee ranks second behind only Alabama for the most prescriptions for powerful painkillers and currently our state has more prescriptions than people. In 2015, 1,451 people died from their addiction, meaning the state lost more residents to opioids than car crashes.

To say our state is facing a crisis is an understatement. And while a great deal has been written about the problem, there have been few solutions proposed past curbing prescriptions. But at the very least, the drug addiction epidemic is being approached for what it is-a healthcare issue and not a criminal one.

There are a number of free market reforms to our healthcare system that would allow individuals struggling with addiction to better access quality healthcare. In a recent study, substance abusers were asked to identify treatment barriers. Negative social support, fear of treatment, privacy concerns, time conflict, poor treatment availability, and admission difficulty were all identified as constructs to treatment by those polled.

These are constructs that the free market could largely address if allowed to do so. If models such as Direct Primary Care were able to be replicated for mental health and addiction services, the cost of services could be drastically lowered due to the removal of insurance costs and the bureaucracy that goes along with them.

Additionally, overturning the numerous governmental regulations on telemedicine could drastically expand the scope of service healthcare professionals are able to provide, specifically to rural areas where the opioid epidemic has hit the hardest.

There is a vast amount of red tape that hinders the expansion of telemedicine. This red tape includes regulations like physician licensing, which prevents healthcare practitioners from working across state lines, and complicated credentialing processes that are costly, time consuming, and prevent practitioners from working for more than one hospital or company. Laws prohibiting online evaluations, and existing legal and regulatory rules surrounding privacy and security also make telemedicine models difficult to get off the ground.

That’s a shame, because telehealth addresses several of the barriers identified by addicts for treatment. It could reduce the cost of treatment by bringing a larger supply of providers to a market and by cutting down operating costs. It is a private model and could be accessed through the comfort of one’s home, providing security and privacy for those seeking help. Because medical help could be accessed from one’s home or office, it addresses the time conflicts many addicts face. And lastly, for those living in rural areas, telehealth addresses the lack of available treatment that millions of Americans face in their communities.

If we want to truly tackle the opioid issue in Tennessee then we need options. In the age of technology, it’s important that we are proactive and remove government barriers that prevent essential services from keeping up with the times. Too often, government is suggested as the solution in any discussion on access to healthcare, but this situation vividly illustrates the fact that government is usually the barrier preventing that access.