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OxyContin - Vermont Stops Paying 
For Prescriptions To Welfare Recipients

An News Analysis By Terence T. Gorski
GORSKI-CENAPS Web Publications
Published On: July 19, 2001          Updated On: January 26, 2002
© Terence T. Gorski, 2001

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The War On Drugs takes another step toward interfering with the doctor patient relationship.  The governor of the State of Vermont decided to start practicing medicine without a license when he ordered that Welfare stop paying for prescriptions of OxyContin for pain patients on welfare.  He encouraged doctors to find an alternative pain medication.  This is another step in a continuing over reaction to a drug scare started by the DEA.  OxyContin can be an addictive and dangerous drug.  Many doctors, however, believe it is one of the most effective for severe pain patients, especially those who are terminally ill.  It seems that doctors should be making decisions about prescription medications, not state governors or DEA agents.

OxyContin Vermont Stops Paying Welfare Recipients

Ross Sneyd of the Associated press reported on July 20, 2001 that Vermont will stop paying for OxyContin for certain welfare recipients because of the prescription painkiller's growing link to crime and addiction.  Vermont's Governor Howard Dean also encouraged physicians to find substitutes for the drug and suggested pharmacies might want to stop stocking it. 

OxyContin is a federally approved pain reliever that is a synthetic morphine with a derivative of opium. But when tablets are crushed and mixed with water, snorted or injected, they can give the user a high similar to that of heroin. 

Since 1998, OxyContin and oxycodone, the narcotic's active ingredient, have been linked to more than 100 deaths nationwide.

OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma of Stamford, Conn., criticized the governor's move, which makes Vermont the first state to stop paying for the drug.  ``We think that the plan is a real disservice to patients with pain, particularly the people who currently rely on this drug for pain management,'' spokesman James Heins said. ``There are other more effective ways to combat abuse than limiting access to patients.'' 

Other states restrict the number of OxyContin tablets that can be prescribed in a month. South Carolina requires prior authorization before it will fill prescriptions for it and generally approves its use only for those who are terminally ill, Heins said. 

Dean's decision will have little immediate effect. Vermont's general assistance program is a relatively small benefit in the social welfare department and only 70 beneficiaries currently are prescribed OxyContin. 

Many more people receive state help in paying for their prescriptions through the Medicaid program. 

But because the federal government helps pay for Medicaid, the state cannot unilaterally stop paying for drugs covered under it. It also cannot stop covering the drug through the state employees' health plan without negotiating with union officials, something the governor said he would like to try. 

The state will work with doctors and pharmacies to find alternative pain management drugs replace OxyContin, Dean said. 

The governor said he was driven to act by the arrests of three people in Bennington County in the past week. One woman was accused of prescription fraud to obtain higher doses of OxyContin and a couple was accused of stealing 405 tablets from a pharmacy. 

``There are widespread reports around the country where there's prescription fraud and pharmacy break-ins,'' Dean said. 

AP-NY-07-19-01 1832EDT


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