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U.S. Drug Addiction and Overdose Strategy, Army Sued Over Discharges, and Walmart, CVS Pharmacies Have Blocked Telehealth Prescriptions
Here is a recap of some of the top industry-related news stories of the week:
Biden to unveil new U.S. drug addiction and overdose strategy
U.S. President Joe Biden will unveil a new strategy for dealing with drug addiction and overdoses that aims to expand access to medications for opioid overdoses, increase funding for law enforcement, and expand sanctions against traffickers.
The Biden administration is keen to show it is taking action on a worsening U.S. opioid crisis, which fueled more than an estimated 106,854 drug overdose deaths in the year to November 2021, a 15.6% increase from the same period a year earlier, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
"That's an American life lost every five minutes around the clock," said Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of National Drug Control Policy at the White House.
The National Drug Control Strategy, which Biden will send to Congress on Thursday, seeks to double treatment admissions for populations that are most at risk of overdose deaths and ensure universal access to medications for opioid use disorder by 2025.
Currently, key tools like naloxone, a medication that can reverse opioid overdoses, and syringe service programs are often restricted or under-funded. There are legal barriers limiting access to naloxone in some states, and in others, the drug is not always available to those most at risk of an overdose.
Patients are more likely to receive a naloxone prescription if they had a prior diagnosis of opioid misuse or dependence along with an overdose compared with individuals who had those diagnoses without an overdose.
Army sued over discharges of soldiers with addiction issues
The U.S. Army is violating veterans’ rights, its own regulations, and the Constitution by refusing to give soldiers with alcohol and drug use disorders honorable discharges that would qualify them for federal benefits, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.
Army veteran Mark Stevenson, with help from students at Yale Law School, is suing Army Secretary Christine Wormuth in federal court in Connecticut, seeking to force the military branch to upgrade the discharge statuses of himself and other veterans who were given less-than-honorable discharges because of misconduct related to their substance abuse disorders.
The lawsuit is similar to previous ones filed by Yale’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic on behalf of former military members with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues who were denied honorable discharges because of misconduct. Those cases resulted in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines agreeing to reconsider those discharge decisions based on new criteria that acknowledge mental health problems can affect behavior.
The military issues thousands of less-than-honorable discharges every year, which disqualifies veterans from health and counseling benefits that may help them, according to the Veterans Legal Services Clinic.
The Army is violating military policy to provide “liberal consideration” in discharge decisions of whether misconduct was related to mental health problems, the clinic said. The branch also is violating due process rights under the Fifth Amendment that require federal agencies to follow their own regulations and guidance, it said.
Walmart, CVS Pharmacies Have Blocked or Delayed Telehealth Adderall Prescriptions
Some of the nation’s largest pharmacies have blocked or delayed prescriptions over the last year from clinicians working for telehealth startups that have sprung up to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to pharmacies and people familiar with the issue.
The pharmacies in certain cases have expressed concerns that clinicians at Done Health and Cerebral Inc. are writing too many prescriptions for Adderall and other stimulants, the people said. The federal government considers the drugs controlled substances because of their potential for abuse and places them in the same category as cocaine.
Many pharmacies have procedures for reviewing prescriptions of controlled substances after concerns that the ease of acquiring highly addictive pain medications contributed to the country’s opioid crisis. Pharmacies might have various reasons for not completing a prescription, including that a medicine is out of stock or was prescribed before a previous prescription ran out.
Online mental-health companies Done and Cerebral have grown quickly since they were founded in 2019 and serve tens of thousands of patients between them. Both companies charge patients monthly subscription fees to manage their prescriptions, rates that are higher than what they pay nurse practitioners to manage the patients. They reinvest profits in advertising on Instagram, TikTok, and Google to attract new patients.
Some Cerebral clinicians have similarly had their prescriptions blocked or delayed for Adderall and other controlled substances, including benzodiazepines used to treat anxiety, due to pharmacists’ concerns about the prescriptions.
When pharmacists delayed or refused to fill prescriptions for Cerebral patients, the company’s staff sometimes encouraged patients to use a different local pharmacy or to use its mail-order pharmacy partner, Truepill Inc.
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