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Medical Panel: All Adults Should be Asked About Drug Use

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A national medical advisory panel wants doctors to ask all U.S. adults aged 18 or older about possible illicit drug use, to help stem the opioid-abuse crisis, the Wall Street Journal reports. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force—an independent panel of experts whose recommendations can be pivotal for insurance plans under federal law—released a draft recommendation that doctors ask their patients about illicit drug use, including opioid painkillers, so they can be directed to treatment. The panel also wants doctors to inquire about drug use on patient questionnaires in doctors’ offices.

Task force co-vice chair Karina Davidson said the group is seeking comments on the recommendations before making them final. Dr. Davidson stressed that the task force wasn’t recommending drug tests, but instead a series of questions doctors could ask on questionnaires or in person. “This is a screening recommendation,” said Dr. Davidson, senior vice president for research at health-care system Northwell Health. “It’s just asking a couple of questions to find out if someone not already diagnosed has a problem.” Michael Carome of the consumer organization Public Citizen Health Research Group said such questions are already common in general medical practice “because there are so many conditions that can be triggered by illegal drug use. The group’s draft recommendation, which reverses its previous stance of not asking about illicit drug use, said 7.5 million people 12 and older in the U.S. have been diagnosed with dependence or abuse of illicit drugs in the past year. The group’s draft carries a “B” rating, meaning that members have moderate confidence  such screening questions will carry a net benefit by directing patients to treatment. Any A- or B-rated recommendation must be covered by most private insurance plans.

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