Study: Prior Authorization Requirement for Addiction Meds Is Killing NY Drug Users

    Harm reduction activists in New York state are demanding increased access to lifesaving opioid use disorder medications, saying that regulatory barriers to accessing drugs like methadone and buprenorphine are deadly for drug users and financially wasteful for the state. In October, a number of advocacy groups protested Governor Andrew Cuomo’s failure to sign legislation that would remove the requirement for people seeking buprenorphine to obtain prior authorization from the state’s Medicaid program.

    And the numbers support their demands, according to a new study. Research conducted by RTI International for the nonprofit Legal Action Center found that 586 lives could be saved in the state each year if prescribers did not need to get confirmation from payers like Medicaid before making medication-assisted treatments (MAT) for opioid use disorders available to patients.

    “This study gives clear and compelling evidence that removing prior authorization requirements for OUD medications will significantly increase utilization, which will result in fewer opioid-related overdose deaths and also decrease utilization of other expensive healthcare services,” said Tracie Gardner, Legal Action Center’s vice president of policy advocacy (and a Filter contributor) in a December 6 press release.

    Legal Action Center is one of the organizations pushing for Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign two bills⁠—Assembly 7246B and Senate 5935⁠—that would eliminate prior authorization requirements for Medicaid. As Filter has reported, advocate Jasmine Budnella is concerned that the bills will not become law before the next legislative session, with Cuomo instead vetoing the bill while activists are tied up for the holidays.

    “The sooner Governor Cuomo signs legislation to remove prior authorization, the sooner more lives will be saved,” said Budnella, drug policy coordinator for VOCAL-NY. “New York State is in the midst of a devastating overdose crisis, and communities across the state should not have to wait another moment to access the lifesaving treatment they deserve.”


    Photo of a patient receiving a methadone dose by USAID Vietnam via Wikimedia Commons.

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