Thoughts on the Opioid Epidemic

Volume 118, No. 7July, 2018

Martha Hyde

As some of you know, Local 802 devoted its June 6 membership meeting to the opioid crisis in our society, which affects musicians as well as many others. I recently attended an International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP) conference in Washington DC. One of the presentations there was on the opioid epidemic. Synthetic opioids accounted for the vast majority of drug overdose deaths from 2000 to 2016. Prescriptions for opioids quadrupled from 1999 to 2014 and 80 percent of all painkillers in the world are taken by Americans. Opioids cause dopamine levels in the brain to rise ten times higher than the next-most addictive drug. Employer-sponsored health insurance spent $2.6 billion on addiction treatment and overdoses in 2016, up from $273 million in 2004. The Mental Health Parity Act requires health plans to cover mental health, which includes addiction, at the same level as physical health; however, compliance is un-even and some patients run out of benefits before the minimum yearlong course of treatment has run. There are also a number of unethical “rehab” facilities that are little more than group homes in attractive cities. These do nothing to treat patients and charge health plans for very expensive drug tests that are carried out several times a week.

This is a time of turbulence in the healthcare field. Health insurance markets have been destabilized by presidential executive orders, and at the same time the need for addiction prevention and services has skyrocketed.

I learned much more at the conference and got into an interesting exchange with a think tank presenter over Medicare spending. I’ll post further thoughts in the web version of this article, which you can view at