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THE NEWS:

Patients who are struggling with opioid addiction are having to go without life-saving medication. A sudden change in DC Medicaid, health insurance for low-income people, has left patients going days without medication-assisted treatment, City Paper’s Josh Kaplan reports

DC Medicaid isn’t letting patients refill buprenorphine prescriptions early. Multiple treatment providers tell Kaplan they heard from DC Medicaid officials that it’s part of a new zero tolerance policy barring early refills. But the Department of Health Care Finance maintains it’s a systems error, not policy shift, that’s prohibited early refill of buprenorphine; it’s expected to be resolved by Tuesday. 

Peer-reviewed research says medications like buprenorphine and methadone can stop the cycle of opioid addiction. Various studies concluded that medication-assisted treatment can cut the all-cause mortality rate among patients by at least half. 

In 2017, D.C. experienced one of the highest death rates due to drug overdose nationwide, at 44.0 per 100,000. At first, Mayor Muriel Bowser was slow to address the crisis. But in December 2018, Bowser released an ambitious plan to cut opioid-related deaths by half by 2020. The fact that patients are being deterred from accessing addiction medication undermines the mayor’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis. 

“You have the Bowser administration saying that they’re on top of the opioid crisis. But these are the nitty-gritty details that determine if it works. These little changes … will result in more deaths,” says David Sternberg, HIPS’ clinical services manager. “The clock is ticking.”

Providers tell Kaplan they already know of several patients who are being denied routine treatment. And missed medication can hobble recovery efforts. Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? Email agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com

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MAKE PLANS, by Emma Sarappo (Love this section? Get the full To Do This Week newsletter here. Tips? esarappo@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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