KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

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Places Hit Hardest By Economic Woes More Likely To Be Ravaged By Opioid Epidemic

A new study finds a link between unemployment rates and abuse of prescription painkillers. Meanwhile, an advocacy group's funding is called into question and more people are taking opioids.

The Washington Post: The Deadly Connection Between Prescription Painkillers And The Economy
About 15 years ago, death rates among middle-aged white Americans stopped falling and started to climb. It was an unprecedented reversal for a modern industrialized country, and we still don’t fully understand why it happened. The researchers who sounded the alarm — Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton — pointed to rising rates of suicide, drug overdose and alcoholism as possible clues. These so-called diseases of despair can’t fully explain why the death rate has stopped improving, but they do hint at an underlying cause: a growing sense of overall malaise about their lives. (Guo, 3/3)

Stat: Opioid Treatment Group Fronted By Newt Gingrich And Patrick Kennedy Keeps Its Funders Secret
It’s an irresistible pairing: Big-name Washington politicians Newt Gingrich and Patrick Kennedy have joined forces to help a new advocacy group push for wider use of medications to treat opioid addiction and expanded government funding. As paid advisers to Advocates for Opioid Recovery, Gingrich, the former Republican House speaker and a Trump confidant, and Kennedy, a former congressman and a scion of the family that defined liberal Democratic politics for decades, have generated a flurry of media attention. They have conducted joint interviews with outlets ranging from Fox News to The New Yorker. (Armstrong, 3/3)

NPR: More People Are Taking Opioids Despite Growing Fears
Prescribed narcotic painkillers continue to fuel a nationwide opioid epidemic—nearly half of fatal overdoses in the United States involve opioids prescribed by a doctor. But people don't seem to be avoiding the medications, despite the well-documented risks. In the latest NPR-Truven Health Analytics poll, over half of people surveyed, or 57 percent, said they had been prescribed a narcotic painkiller like Percocet, Vicodin or morphine at some point. That's an increase of 3 percent since we last asked the question in 2014 (54 percent), and of 7 percent since our 2011 poll (50 percent). (Boddy, 3/3)

And in other news —

New Hampshire Public Radio: N.H. Will See Fewer Federal Dollars Than Expected To Curb Drug Crisis
When President Barack Obama signed the “21st Century Cures Act” into law last year, New Hampshire officials anticipated getting $10 million over the next biennium. That number has dropped to $6 million. Tym Rurke, who chairs the Governor’s Commission on Drugs and Alcohol, says although the funding was supposed to be based on per capita overdose deaths – that wasn’t the case. (Sutherland, 3/2)

New Hampshire Public Radio: Harvard Pilgrim Will Get A Closer Look After State Study On Addiction Treatment Claims
The New Hampshire Insurance Department released the findings of a study Thursday that takes a look at how insurance companies are handling drug and alcohol abuse treatment claims. The study, which examines the insurers Cigna, Anthem, and Harvard Pilgrim, was intended, in part, to determine if they were complying with federal parity law. Though Cigna and Anthem didn’t turn up too many red flags, the Insurance Department will be taking a closer look at Harvard Pilgrim. (McCarthy, 3/2)

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