What We're Reading: Limiting Use of Fentanyl, the Drug Fueling the Opioid Epidemic

What we're reading, October 12, 2016: a US senator calls for a limit to prescription fentanyl; healthcare costs aren't skyrocketing, despite claims; IBM's Watson will identify cancer treatment and clinical trials for IBM employees.

Fentanyl produced in China and funneled into the United States has become the leading cause of fatal opioid overdoses in some parts of the country. According to STAT, a Massachusetts senator is claiming that a prescription version of the drug being prescribed by physicians may be contributing to the opioid epidemic. Senator Edward Markey has written to CMS and the FDA, blaming them for reimbursing prescriptions for improper off-label use of fentanyl, which may be fueling the crisis, and asking them to limit use of prescription fentanyl.

Despite claims in the presidential debate Sunday night, healthcare costs aren’t skyrocketing. In fact, the cost increases workers will see when they receive their 2017 open enrollment packets will be lower than in previous years, Reuters reported. Analysts said that even employees will even bear less of the burden of those increases. However, it is important to note that healthcare cost growth, which is estimated at 4% for 2017, is still running ahead of inflation, which is less than 2%.

IBM’s Watson is being offered to IBM employees to help them identify cancer treatments and clinical trials. The Wall Street Journal reported that the service uses both the software’s artificial intelligence and human doctors to generate a report patients and oncologists can review together. The doctors will collect health records and input the relevant data into Watson, which then goes through medical journals and scientific data to find appropriate treatment options and relevant clinical trials for lung, breast, colorectal, and gastric cancers.