Medicare’s Strange Stance on Substance Abuse Research

In order to correctly gauge the substance abuse problem in the United States, researchers have to examine data from all sorts of different agencies. One of the agencies that have been able to supply massive amounts of information to researchers is Medicare. Medicare is a federal health care program that is responsible for the care of adults over the age of 65 and people with disabilities as well as people with certain types of diseases. Because of the population that Medicare serves, they are in the possession of valuable information that helps researchers determine how drug and alcohol abuse is growing or declining and what sorts of people tend to gravitate towards substance abuse. However, Medicare has recently declined to offer any sort of demographic information, effectively hindering any attempts at further research.

In 1987 a rule was enacted that stated that in order to use someone’s information for research purposes, the researchers had to obtain that individual’s permission. In the past this rule has been overlooked, yet in 2013 Medicare began taking things into their own hands. They started deleting information from their database that, in the past, had been available to researchers. While nothing can be done to obtain this information, many are working to get the rule reversed or altered to allow researchers can conduct proper investigations.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) stated that they were almost done drafting an appeal to the rule. Representatives from the New York Times and New England Journal of Medicine have also been vocal in the need to change or edit the rule. Despite this, it is unlikely that researchers will be granted access to the demographic information any time soon, as once the rule change is drafted; it has to be passed by the government.

Research conducted using Medicare’s database has been able to shape hospital policies, alert law enforcement of certain drug-using trends and provided researchers with valuable information for other studies relating to drug and alcohol abuse. As the drug environment continues to expand beyond teenagers and young adults, researchers are clamoring for vital information relating to an entire section of the population that has proven that they are at just as much risk for developing drug and alcohol addictions as anyone else.