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Read our FAQ's on NarxCare and our NarxCare article, If you need a little refresher on what it is.
As you know, one of our issues with NarxCare is that it has never been externally validated. Bamboo Health/Appriss held a webinar on October 27, 2021. The webinar was named "External Validation of NarxCare as Useful Clinical Decision Support Tool." Here is a recording in case you're interested in watching the 30-minute webinar. They state the aim of the paper the webinar was based on is to "validate the NS metric compared to WHO ASSIST and identify high, moderate and low opioid risk thresholds and to provide actionable data."
Before I go into detail about this webinar, I want to tell you a story about a hypothetical patient named Rachel.
Rachel has had the same prescriber for years, but is moving across the country and has to find a new doctor. According to Rachel's Narcotic Score (NS), Rachel now has two prescribers. This new doctor has a PA in his office that sometimes writes Rachel's prescriptions. Rachel now has 3 prescribers within the last two years. Six months after Rachel started seeing this new doctor, he is raided by the DEA and can no longer prescribe. Rachel finds a new doctor. She now has had 4 prescribers. Rachel's new doctor gives her the first two prescriptions and then transfers her to his NP. This would be Rachel's 5th prescriber. Sadly,18 months after Rachel moved, she is in a terrible car accident and is admitted to the hospital for 4 weeks. Upon discharge, the nurse has Rachel's prescriptions filled at the hospital pharmacy for Rachel so she doesn't have to stop on the way home. This would now be a 6th prescriber. According to the PDMP and NarxCare, she will be flagged as a doctor shopper.
Let's talk about Rachel's pharmacies. Once Rachel moves, she obviously has to get a new pharmacy. Rachel now has 2 pharmacies showing in the PDMP. Rachel's new pharmacy is CVS. CVS starts to give Rachel a hard time about getting her prescriptions filled and her doctor suggests she start going to a small mom and pop pharmacy. Rachel now has 3 pharmacies listed in her PDMP NarxCare score. After a few months, her current pharmacy tells Rachel that due to DEA quota cuts, they can't keep filling her meds consistently and suggests she go to a different, larger pharmacy. Rachel does, and now has 4 pharmacies listed in her PDMP. Remember Rachel's terrible car accident she was in? The pharmacy at the hospital would be Rachel's 5th pharmacy in the past two years. According to her Narcotic Score, she will be flagged as a pharmacy hopper.
After Rachel's nearly fatal car accident, she is given a prescription for sleeping pills because she has a really hard time sleeping. She also is given 10 Ativan because she has PTSD from her accident and gets panic attacks every time she gets in the car to drive to PT. Both of these medications increase her NarxCare Narcotic Score even though they aren't opioids.
Rachel sees her doctor after being discharged from the hospital and he tells her that her Narcotic Score is too high and he can no longer prescribe. Her NS skyrocketed bc she had 6 prescribers, 5 pharmacies, a prescription for sleeping pills and a prescription for Ativan. The only medication her doctor is now willing to prescribe is Suboxone, which means she would now have a diagnosis of Opioid Use Disorder in her EHR. Rachel declines and thankfully, she is able to find a new pain doctor. Her NS now shows she has had a total of 7 prescribers in the last 2 years. Her new doctor receives a warning letter because he is prescribing controlled substances to someone with a very high NS. Rachel's new doctor dismisses her from his office saying he's not willing to risk his license for her. Not only is Rachel unable to find a new pain doctor, she can't even find a regular doctor.
So, was this Narcotic Score helpful? In black and white it looks like Rachel is playing games and has definite signs of OUD. The reality is, she doesn't struggle with addiction, but is now medically abandoned and her only option for pain relief is to go to the streets and hope to get pills that aren't laced with illicit fentanyl. Since Rachel is too afraid to do that, she has to quit her job and file for SSDI since she is no longer able to work due to uncontrolled pain and anxiety.
Now let's discuss this webinar.
NPR's show, 1A, had our VP, Bev Schechtman on a panel on November 11, 2021. The name of the segment is "Against The Pain: The Opioid Crisis and Medication Access." NPR became interested in the show after reading Maia Szalavitz's article about NarxCare in Wired. Listen to the recording of the show. You don't want to miss this!
"We have these people who have been on these meds for 20-30 years and doctors are under extraordinary pressure to get their numbers down" ~Maia
"In a criminalized environment where doctors are not only afraid of losing their license, but of going to prison, and where patients are being squeezed because they're being told 'you can only have x amount because otherwise my numbers are too high,' you end up with a lot of untreated pain." ~Maia
"I'd like to see context added (to these algorithms), if someone moves 3 times in 2 years, it needs to not look like they're 'doctor shopping,' I'd like to see a return to individualized care and stop these arbitrary guidelines where people are having a hard stop on what they can and can't have and they're not looking at what's actually going on with the patient." ~Bev
"I was treated like a criminal; I was mocked, laughed at, scolded, I was embarrassed...I felt revictimized." ~Bev
"There are tremendous gender and racial bias in these algorithms and in this false narrative." ~Bev
"No one should ever be denied care, that's just cruel and unusual punishment." ~Dr. Dombrowski
"Electronic Health Records are just a billing system, not to make patient care better...if you hit something by accident like malingering, next thing you know it's in the chart permanently. It's dangerous." ~Dr. Dombrowski
Dr. Mark Ibsen, who is a fierce advocate for the CPP community, recorded the show with running commentary.
When our VP, Bev Schechtman, was denied adequate pain medication when hospitalized for kidney stones due to having been a victim of sexual abuse, she became obsessed with researching how this could happen. She learned about NarxCare and the Opioid Risk Tool. We, at The Doctor Patient Forum/Don't Punish Pain, have been researching these topics for the past four years. We've reached out to countless investigative journalists only to be shot down. Thankfully, Maia Szalavitz, an author and leader in harm reduction, was interested in telling the story of NarxCare and other risk tools. This was our first piece of national media, and we are so excited to share it with you. We suggest holding on to this article and sharing it with your local legislators. About half of the states use NarxCare, and this article can help you fight against it. Read about how our country has tried to help the "opioid crisis" by using a risk score algorithm, yet it seems they're only making matters worse.