Researchers say they see promise in new findings that fewer opioid prescriptions are being given to South Carolinians on Medicaid.
A University of South Carolina study found a program which requires doctors and other healthcare providers to check a patient’s prescription history before prescribing the drugs has led to a 29 percent drop since the requirement began in 2014. The percentage of Medicaid patients in South Carolina who have an opioid pain prescription was 14 percent last year, compared with 20 percent three years ago.
Lead researcher Ana Lopez De Fede said her team also found declines in the average maximum daily doses among Medicaid patients, which she believes suggests providers are being more careful. “We’ve found that opioids were being prescribed at a lower rate and we found lower rates for all high-dosage opioid users,” she told South Carolina Radio Network.
The study was done on behalf of the state Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Medicaid programs. Its results were first reported by the Charleston Post & Courier.
Providers were required to use the monitoring program for Medicaid recipients after 2014. Legislators expanded the requirement to cover all South Carolinians earlier this year.
Despite the declines, De Fede said the study found the drops occurred more in urban areas and less in rural counties. She also said the change in higher dosage prescription levels (120 milligrams or higher per day) was minimal the past three years.
Meanwhile, the number of opioid overdose deaths in South Carolina has actually increased since 2014, according to the state Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS). De Fede said the increase was due to more available heroin drugs, such as fentanyl. She maintained the program will not in of itself stop opioid abuse.
“The policies moved us in the right direction,” she said. “But it also points to the fact that it’s not the entire solution.”