Senate Drug Abuse Bill

What is it?

In March of 2016, the Senate was brought a bill that was intended to focus on the American crisis related to drug use and, more importantly, to drug abuse. Over the past decades, there have been increased numbers of deaths and major accidents due to the use of opioids (vicodin, oxycodone, morphine, codeine, and other drugs of the same classification).

Opioids are commonly prescribed to manage pain that can come from anything from oral surgery to broken bones, to the removal of one’s appendix due to a sports injury. The medication is prescribed so often, because it is easily available at most every local pharmacy and because it is very inexpensive, both to the insurance companies and to the uninsured who must pay from their own pockets.

However, because these drugs are so frequently prescribed and because it can be very difficult for a doctor to tell a patient that they do not feel strong enough pain to need these drugs, it is easy for a person to obtain them without actually needing them. In addition, this makes it easy for those who have no physical ailments to gain access to these drugs and for anyone taking them (whether prescribed to them or not) to become dependent or addicted.

The Senate drug abuse bill addresses this issue by authorizing money for rehabilitation and other types of treatment programs and has been approved through the Senate, but it is unknown whether the House will approve it.

If the bill becomes law, what does it mean for the “average Joe?”

For many people, it may mean little in their daily lives right away. Those who are struggling with opioid dependence or addiction, however, may now have access to new treatment opportunities, ranging from rehabilitation centers to easier access to naloxone, a drug that helps to reverse overdoses.

In addition, family members of those who are struggling may also have new treatment options as they have also fallen victim to drug addiction within their lives. Over time, however, the goal of this bill is for everyone’s daily lives to be impacted. This may be by ways of something as simple as seeing regular medication disposal drop-boxes in neighborhoods so that medications can be disposed of without them being flushed down into city water systems or without them being available in homes for theft. Or over a longer period of time, daily lives will also change in cities where drug addiction is strongest and where drug related crime rates are highest.

The goal of the bill focuses on finding ways to remove these drugs from the hands of abusers as well as to guide those who are struggling into proper treatment options within their own communities. In time, this is intended to lower addiction rates and lower crime rates.

What does this have to do with Hepatitis C?

For many people with hepatitis C, this may not impact anything at all. However, some who have hepatitis C also have pain associated with the symptoms of their hep C.

For example, some people have significant liver damage. This damage can result in abdominal pain associated with the liver’s struggle to work with the gall bladder and properly digest food. Some doctors may prescribe narcotics in order to help their patients to manage this sort of pain or other pain that may be associated with the symptoms of hepatitis C.

If this bill becomes a law, it will likely be much more difficult for patients with a prescription for narcotics to find their drugs in a local pharmacy. Patients may also find that doctors will become less willing to write prescriptions for narcotics, and that those who do will write them for smaller doses or fewer pills per prescription. This may result in more frequent office visits to gain more pain management medication, which may result in additional office visit or co-payment fees, depending on a patient’s specific health insurance plan.

Doctors who do not wish to provide narcotics at the same frequency may begin to prescribe other medications to patients who are seeking pain management. This may mean that new side effects or drug risks need to be assessed, as well as risks for allergic reactions. It may also mean that health insurance plans need to be consulted to ensure that the different pain medications are covered by insurance at the same pricing rate as narcotics.

If this bill passes the Senate and becomes a law, you may begin to feel worried about these possibilities. Please reach out to your personal hepatitis C management team (doctors, nurses, your health insurance company, etc.) to discuss the options that will be available to you. They will help to provide you with the information that is specific to your medical needs, your health insurance plan, and to your budget.1

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