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State health department changes prescribing guidelines for opioid use disorders

Haley Lawrence

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has announced that beginning this week, it will remove prior authorizations for medications that are used to treat opioid abuse disorders.

The policy went into effect Monday, December 2. Prior authorization is a policy that requires physicians to get approval from their patients’ health insurers before prescribing certain medicines or performing specific operations. This applies specifically to Medicaid sponsored by the state. The MDHHS said in a statement that it believes that prior authorization only created more barriers for patients receiving treatment for opioid abuse.

Under the new policy, prescribers will no longer need prior authorization for medications including buprenorphine. These kinds of medications are more long-acting, allowing patients to take less, and have capabilities that greatly lower the risk of misuse and dependency, including a lessened euphoric effect.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun is the chief medical executive and chief deputy for health for MDHHS. She says removing these barriers will speed up treatment.

“We have to treat opioid use disorder like any other disease. We wouldn't withhold insulin from a diabetic because their sugars are too high, and similarly, we should not have unnecessary barriers for people with opioid use disorder in access and treatment.”

Khaldun says more than five people die from opioid overdoses each day in Michigan. Such a crisis, she says, warrants an all-hands-on-deck approach.

“We know there's a lot more work that we have to do, we know that there are disparities in opioid deaths across the state, and so removing prior authorization is part of that broader strategy to expand access to treatment, to stop people from dying, and to address the disparities that we see.”

Khaldun says the MDHHS is working closely with Governor Whitmer’s opioid task force in using a three-pronged approach to combating the epidemic: prevention, treatment, and harm reduction.

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Caroline is a third year history major at the University of Michigan. She also works at The Michigan Daily, where she has been a copy editor and an opinion columnist. When she’s not at work, you can find her down at Argo Pond as a coxswain for the Michigan men’s rowing team. Caroline loves swimming, going for walks, being outdoors, cooking, trivia, and spending time with her two-year-old cat, Pepper.
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