State reveals its opioid strategy

Three-prong approach includes media campaign, increase access to medication and harm reduction.

November 29, 2019 | by Danielle Nelson

Michigan is heightening its efforts to prevent and treat opioid addiction. 

Its effort is based on a three-prong approach Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and the Michigan Opioids Task Force revealed in November.

The strategy is focused on three steps: media campaign, which is designed to eliminate the stigma that is associated with the disorder, increase access to medication and harm reduction. 

The first step involves a $1 million statewide media campaign that is funded by the State Opioid Response federal grant funds to inform individuals about the opioid addiction and eliminate the stigma that is associated with it. The campaign will feature advertisements in television, radio, billboards, social media, paid search and on mobile devices, which will run through April. The ads will provide information about programs and resources that are provided by the state. The state also will be releasing toolkits for medical providers on safer opioid prescribing practices.

The second is removing prior authorization requirements for Medicaid recipients who use specific medications to treat their disorders, such as buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone, starting Dec. 2.

Dr. Cara Poland, a physician at Spectrum Health’s outpatient clinic, said insurance companies do not readily cover some medications that treat opioid addiction without further explanation. 

“If your doctor says, ‘I think you should have this medical test or this medication,’ your insurance can say, ‘No, if you need that test, you need to give me the rationale for why you need or want that test,’ and sometimes the process can take multiple days to go through,” she said. “Historically, Michigan Medicaid had prior authorization processes for some of the medication to treat individuals with an opioid addiction disorder. This could, because there is a turnaround time for that, lead to a delay in treatment, which means that we can lose some of our patients to follow-up. 

“So, they come in and say they want treatment, we try to get them the medication, we have this delay and the patient doesn’t come back, so we don’t get them the medication they need. (As a result,) they’ll remove that barrier so if I say, ‘My patient needs this medication,’ my patient can go from my office to the pharmacy and pick up the medication.”

Along with eliminating prior authorization requirements for Medicaid patients, inmates who are suffering from opioid addiction disorder also will be a priority in the state’s three-prong approach. They represent more than 20% of individuals who are incarcerated in Michigan and are 40 to 120 times more likely to die of an overdose within two weeks of release. 

“We know that the prison population is at a higher risk of having a substance use disorder,” Poland said. “These medications help to stabilize the brain so people can engage in healthier thought processes. By having access to these medications during incarceration and strong linkage to care after incarceration, one of the goals is to reduce the risk of someone being re-incarcerated after release.

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