My name is Jaclyn Brown, and I’m writing this letter because my brother Marc can’t.
It was 2010, and he was a 21-year-old junior studying business at the University of Arizona. That’s when Marc was involved in a serious car accident that broke his pelvis. Doctors prescribed Oxycodone for the pain.
This was a different time. People didn’t understand the danger in taking these drugs for an extended period, and prescription guidelines were nothing like today. My brother’s use of Oxycodone soon became an addiction.
Marc’s experience isn’t uncommon. After his access to prescription opioids became too difficult, he transitioned to the street equivalent: heroin. My parents and I did everything we could, and Marc fought to recover. He was on AHCCCS and attempted rehabilitation twice, but was limited both in the length of rehab stay that AHCCCS would cover and the treatment medication it provided.
Opioid dependency is difficult to beat. That’s why most addiction medicine specialists favor a combination of drug counseling together with a buprenorphine medication that helps dull cravings. If you’re an Arizonan with private insurance, chances are good that you and your physician have access to a menu of buprenorphine options that have come on the market to treat opioid addiction.
But if you’re an AHCCCS enrollee, like my brother, there’s just a single buprenorphine product: Suboxone. Marc and other patients who don’t succeed with Suboxone have no easy access to an alternative for a second chance.
By 2018, Marc had been battling substance use disorder for the better part of a decade. But he was trying to get his life together, living with our parents in Sierra Vista and working to finish his degree at UA-South.
My brother died of a heroin overdose on Nov. 16, 2018. He was 29.
I want to be clear that I don’t blame AHCCCS for Marc’s death. He was an adult and made his own choices. But I’ve spent the last six months wondering whether my brother could have been saved, whether a different buprenorphine treatment could have made the difference for him.
It’s too late for my brother, but there’s still time for countless other AHCCCS enrollees struggling with opioid addiction. They deserve the best possible chance of recovery. And their physicians are owed the broadest possible arsenal of medications to fight this battle.
Thankfully, on May 23, the Pharmacy & Therapeutics Committee has an opportunity to right this wrong. It can recommend that AHCCCS make available all or at least a wider range of FDA-approved buprenorphine products for the purpose of treating opioid addiction.
I urge the committee and AHCCCS to take this important step. You never know whose life it may save.
Jaclyn Brown is a member of an Arizona family that has experienced the trauma of opioid addiction. She lives in Mesa.