Thursday, September 10, 2009

Suicide Prevention Day

A couple of thoughts:

1. There are many who are killing themselves slowly, this is also a form of suicide in my opinion.
2. Many who complete suicide often tell others of their intention to do so beforehand. Please always take such statements seriously, and encourage immediate help.
3. If you are a treating physician, counselor, friend, family member or otherwise close to someone who has completed suicide, find someone to talk to about it.
4. They say there are two types of psychiatrists, those that have had a patient commit suicide and those that will have a patient commit suicide. For many of us, this is the ultimate sense of failure in our profession. That is sad, but understandable.
5. 1-800-273-TALK is the number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Why I lose sleep

For the umpteenth time this year, I have received a request to change a medication from a prescription drug plan (this is a government-run one, but others are guilty of the same stupidity) that reads something along these lines:

Dear Doc,

We have reviewed the medications of your patient and would recommend that you switch him/her from the medication you prescribed (clonazepam-a benzodiazepine) for insomnia to zolpidem (a benzodiazepine-like medication). Studies have shown that chronic usage of benzodiazepines can lead to tolerance and addiction... etc, etc. A form (which looks almost identical to a standard refill request) is sent along for my convenience.

So, no big deal. Right? The insurance company wants to use the "safer" medication and ensure quality care for it's client. Except, over the past few years (until last summer), I was receiving letters from the same prescription drug plans that looked something like this:

Dear Doc,

We have reviewed the medications of your patient and would recommend that you switch him/her from the medication you prescribed Ambien (zolpidem) for insomnia to clonazepam(or other similar benzodiazepine). Zolpidem is not approved by the FDA for the treatment of chronic insomnia, and will not be covered... etc, etc. A form again is sent along for my convenience.

To review, the insurance company is requesting that I change their recommended medication to their previously rejected medication. What gives? Did the FDA approve zolpidem for chronic insomnia? Nope. Did benzodiazepines suddenly become more dangerous than previously thought? No. What DID happen is simple: zolpidem became available as a generic. And the benzos got sent back to the "bad drug" bin.

I'm all for cost cutting in health care, and the reality is that benzodiazepine and nonbenzodiazepine sedatives have both risks and benefits, and both are acceptable classes in the treatment of insomnia. Zolpidem is even noted to have some abuse potential (especially for those who choose to use other chemical means to stay awake after taking it). However, phony-baloney excuses by the insurance companies only to save a buck are criminal. If the makers of these medications tried marketing using these practices, they'd be in court faster than you could say class action.

Don't believe me? Ask a doctor how easy it is to get approval for a switch to Ambien CR, Lunesta, or Sonata--some of the other nonbenzodiazepine sedatives--which happen to not be available in a generic. Oh, and by the way, Ambien CR is approved for the treatment of chronic insomnia.

I need a nap.