Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.


A new report from ProPublica and the New York Times about insurers and opioid addiction reveals insurance providers prioritize drug costs over addiction risks. (Photo: frankieleon/Flickr/cc)

Bolstering Single-Payer Case, Report Shows How For-Profit Insurers Fuel Opioid Crisis

"In case you didn't know, the opioid epidemic is fueled in part by systemic failures in healthcare."

Jessica Corbett

Showcasing yet another downside of the nation's for-profit system, a new report by ProPublica and the New York Times reveals that despite the U.S. opioid crisis, many insurance companies provide easy access to highly addictive opioid medications for pain relief while restricting access to less-risky but more costly alternatives.

As the nation's opioid epidemic has grown, "drugmakers, pharmaceutical distributors, pharmacies, and doctors have come under intense scrutiny in recent years, but the role that insurers—and the pharmacy benefit managers that run their drug plans—have played in the opioid crisis has received less attention," note the Times' Katie Thomas and ProPublica's Charles Ornstein.

The pair spoke with patients who have struggled to access pain relief medications through insurance providers such as Anthem and UnitedHealthcare, the nation's largest insurer. They also analyzed Medicare prescription drug plans that covered 35.7 million Americans and found only a third of those with coverage could access "a painkilling skin patch that contains a less-risky opioid," whereas nearly all plans covered "common opioids, and very few required any prior approval." Further, they found that "insurers have also erected more hurdles to approving addiction treatments than for the addictive substances themselves."

And although addiction experts have observed that as this epidemic evolves, "the problem now appears to be rooted more in the illicit trade of heroin and fentanyl," the reporters also note a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis showing that "risks for chronic use" increase "with each additional day" an opioid is prescribed, and of those patients who receive initial 10-day prescriptions, 20 percent will continue using the drugs after one year.

The ProPublica/Times report provoked an outpouring of personal anecdotes that often mirrored those featured in the article, and strong condemnation of insurance companies, as well as doctors and the pharmaceutical industry.

It also spurred calls for reform—to prescription practices and drug costs, but also to healthcare more broadly.

This report comes less than a week after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), with substantial support from Senate Democrats, introduced a bill aimed at reforming how Americans access health insurance and healthcare. Sanders' Medicare for All bill proposes transitioning from the U.S.'s for-profit healthcare system toward a national single-payer program that guarantees care for all Americans.

In an op-ed for the Boston Globe last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wrote of the opioid crisis: "I believe we can beat this epidemic," while also noting that overcoming the nationwide opioid crisis requires coordination and investment at all levels. Warren—who is co-sponsoring Sanders' healthcare bill— added:

Healthcare and social workers, counselors, and law enforcement agencies, and policy makers and administrators at the local, state, and federal levels of government are already putting it all on the line to help people overcome addiction. We must give them with the tools and support they need so we can win this fight.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.


Poll Shows Majority Oppose Supreme Court's Attack on Fundamental Rights

Fifty-six percent of respondents said they're now concerned the court will attack marriage equality and the right to obtain contraception.

Julia Conley ·

Global Windfall Profit Tax of 90% Needed to Address 'Catastrophic' Food, Climate Crises: Oxfam

Taxing the excess profits of large corporations within the G7 alone could raise an estimated $430 billion to fight world hunger, deliver vaccines to the entire world, and make a giant dent in the fight to drive down fossil fuel pollution and jumpstart the necessary renewable energy transition.

Jon Queally ·

NATO to Boost Ranks of High-Readiness Forces by 650% to Over 300,000

Anti-war campaigners responded that "this is not the path to peace and will not make the world safer."

Jake Johnson ·

Ilhan Omar Says Plan to Fix Supreme Court Must Include Impeachment Probes

"We need an impeachment investigation into Clarence Thomas' role in the January 6th coup, as well as into Gorsuch, Alito, Barrett, and Kavanaugh's testimony on Roe during their confirmation hearings," said the Minnesota Democrat.

Jake Johnson ·

Right-Wing Justices Should Be Impeached for Lying Under Oath, Says Ocasio-Cortez

"We have a responsibility to protect our democracy," said the New York Democrat. "That includes holding those in power who violate the law accountable."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo