CMS recently announced the release of an interactive online mapping tool(go.cms.gov) that allows physicians and other interested parties to search 2013 Medicare Part D opioid prescription claims data at the state, county and ZIP code levels.
Why might that information be useful from a public health perspective?
CMS noted in a Nov. 3 press release(www.cms.gov) announcing the availability of the new tool that deaths from drug overdose have been on the rise for the past two decades. In 2013 alone, more than 16,000 people died from overdosing on prescription opioid pain relievers.
According to CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt, the aim of the interactive resource is to give physicians, local health officials and other stakeholders access to data that will help them "become knowledgeable about their community's Medicare opioid prescription rate."
To that point, the 2013 data indicate that more than 80 million Medicare Part D opioid prescription claims nationwide were processed for 116 distinct opioid products.
"The opioid epidemic impacts every state, county and municipality," said Slavitt. "To address this epidemic, while ensuring that individuals with pain receive effective treatment, we need accurate, timely information about where the problems are and to what extent they exist."
CDC Director Thomas Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., put it this way: "The opioid abuse and overdose epidemic continues to devastate American families."
He said the new tool would help raise awareness among physicians and other prescribers "while continuing to ensure patients have access to the most effective pain treatment."
The end goal, according to Frieden, is to "reduce opioid use disorder among patients."
The map is easy to use: Simply point and click on an area of interest. Data pop up that indicate, for instance, the total number of health care professionals in a particular state or county, the total number of Medicare Part D prescription claims, and the number of opioid claims described as prescriptions written and submitted to be filled.
Users can compare a state's average against the national average and then utilize the zoom-in feature to assess the percentage of opioid claims county by county.
The data are privacy-protected and do not reveal beneficiary details but do contain information related to more than 1 million distinct Medicare-participating health care professionals who, in 2013, prescribed some $103 billion in drugs and supplies.
It's important to note that although the information made available through this CMS mapping project represents progress toward curbing opioid abuse and overuse, Medicare Part D prescriptions account for only a portion of the total number of prescriptions written annually for opioid medications.
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