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Insurers had warning of OxyContin abuses

Posted On: May. 20, 2007 12:00 AM CST

It can be tempting to write off insurer complaints about the overuse of certain drugs or other medical treatments as self-interested maneuvering by organizations whose primary concern is their own bottom line. But, as the OxyContin case shows, sometimes insurers are better placed than many others to make judgments about the need for certain medical treatments.

As we report on page 1, workers compensation insurers have been warning for years about what they saw as excessive prescriptions of OxyContin and other narcotics. Based on their analysis of the ballooning number of prescriptions for narcotics, insurers questioned the sudden need for such powerful drugs for routine pain-management needs.

In addition, again based on their experience, insurers had become accustomed to setting aside reserves to pay for detoxification programs once narcotics claims hit a certain number.

Aside from the well-known abuse that is associated with the so-called hillbilly heroin, it is clear that insurers had early warning indicators of potential problems with OxyContin's widespread use.

Numbers can tell at least part of the story and if they had been taken more seriously by all concerned, maybe doctors and patients would have been alerted earlier to potential problems with the drug.