The opioid epidemic in the United States claims thousands of lives every year, to the point where many medical professionals are now taking extreme measures to help people who are suffering from addiction. For many, this includes carrying the drug naloxone on them at all times.
One such medical professional is Isela, a nurse specializing in addiction treatment at the Boston Medical Center. But the fact that she carries the drug on her in case she comes across someone who has overdosed on opioids has resulted in her being unable to get life insurance, as NPR reported.
She had filled in all the paperwork she needed to, but when she arrived for the blood tests, the final step in her application, she was told that her appointment had been canceled. According to her insurance agent, the reason for the cancellation and her application being denied was because her medication list included naloxone, and, as far as the insurance company is concerned, that means Isela is a drug user.
Primerica, the company that denied her life insurance application, said in a statement by a spokesperson that “we request more information about its intended use as part of our underwriting process,” and that they support the fight against addiction and opioids.
A second company also denied Isela’s application but said they would reconsider if she could show them her prescription for the drug along with an explanation from her doctor as to why she needed it. When she looked through her paperwork, she discovered her doctor hadn’t actually prescribed it.
Massachusetts is one of the states that has issued a standing order for the drug: A single prescription that works for everyone in the state in an attempt to lower the death toll associated with overdoses. In order for Isela to comply with the insurance company’s demands, she would have to track down the doctor who had written the prescription and get a letter from them. Fortunately for her, she discovered that the doctor in question actually works for Boston Medical Center with her.
Dr. Alex Walley is an associate professor of medicine at Boston University and also works as the medical director for the Opioid Overdose Prevention Pilot Program at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
“We want naloxone to be available to a wide group of people — people who have an opioid use disorder themselves, but also [those in] their social networks and other people in a position to rescue them,” Walley explained.
Walley is concerned by the number of staff members at the hospital he has had to write similar letters for, as it could cause medical professionals to stop carrying the drug and leave people overdosing in mortal danger.
“My biggest concern is that people will be discouraged by this from going to get a naloxone rescue kit at the pharmacy,” Walley says. “So this has been frustrating.”
Isela herself has stopped carrying the drug, at least until she is able to get life insurance.
Boston Medical Center has since reached out to the state’s Division of Insurance with these concerns, and they have responded to say they are “reviewing the cases and drafting guidelines for the reasonable use of drug history information in determining whether to issue a life insurance policy.”
Michael Botticelli, who runs the Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine at BMC, added that friends and family of people who suffer from addiction also often want to carry the drug on them in case of an emergency. He has also credited the ease of access to naloxone in Massachusetts for lowering the death toll related to overdoses in the state.
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