La. AG says Medicaid expansion has 'exacerbated' the state's opioid crisis

La. AG says Medicaid expansion has 'exacerbated' the state's opioid crisis
Attorney General Jeff Landry (Source: WAFB)
Attorney General Jeff Landry (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - In the latest chapter of their ongoing feud, the Louisiana governor and attorney general are going head to head over the opioid crisis.

While taking the wraps off a new drug drop box at Baton Rouge Police headquarters, Attorney General Jeff Landry threw a punch. He blamed Louisiana's Medicaid expansion for making the opioid crisis worse. "We have now doubled the number of prescriptions under that program," Landry said.

Governor John Bel Edwards signed an executive order shortly after taking office, expanding the program to include those just over the poverty line. So far, more than 440,000 have enrolled. Landry says that has set the state up for more abuse. "A program that just gives away drugs, without the proper protocols in place, certainly has exacerbated this condition," Landry said.

Esteban Gershanik with the Louisiana Department of Health says that assertion by Landry is not "fair." He says new restrictions put in place by the legislature and the state's Medicaid office limit how many medications can be given to those enrolled.

"Those things that often make you addicted - the amount of opioid pills and the number of opioid pills - has decreased by 25 percent over the past three months," Gershanik said.

And, he says despite expansion, the number of prescriptions across the state is on par or even less than the recent years. Data from the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy Prescription Monitoring Program shows the number of prescriptions per 100 Louisiana citizens is projected to be around 109 this year. That's down from 113 in 2015 and 110 in 2016, which is the year Medicaid expansion started.

"I don't know where the Attorney General got his numbers," Gershanik said.

Gershanik also noted that expansion has allowed those with issues with drug abuse to get access to treatment and care.

This latest dispute comes as the governor and attorney general are already locked in another drug fight. In September, the Edwards administration filed a lawsuit against major drug companies, accusing them of contributing to the opioid crisis in order to maximize profits. Now, the AG wants to take over the case, saying he is the state's chief legal officer.

The two sides apparently are currently in discussions about how to proceed.

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