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Drugs to kick smoking now free by mail except for elderly

Smoking cessation drugs now are available at no charge through the Tricare Mail Order Program for service members, military family members and retirees under age 65 who want to kick this unhealthy habit.

 

The free cessation drugs finally are available almost five years after Congress ordered them. The free medicines are part of a wider smoking cessation program that lawmakers told the Department of Defense to establish under provisions of the fiscal 2009 defense authorization act.

The same law also directed Tricare to boost long-standing smoking cessation efforts with in-person counseling, access to print and web-based material on health effects of tobacco and a 24-hour, toll-free “quit line” with counselors to assess readiness of smokers to quit and recommend ways to address their nicotine dependency.

The smoking cessation program, including mail-order drugs, patches, gums, lozenges and sprays, is not available to beneficiaries eligible for Medicare, which means the Tricare for Life population. This is set in law to hold down costs. It also is not available outside the United States except to active duty members and families enrolled in Tricare Prime overseas.

The toll-free quit line likely will not be available overseas because of “technological barriers and costs involved in providing this service,” Tricare officials explained in a final rule published in the Federal Register Feb. 27.

Free mail-order drugs include heavily promoted medicines such as varenicline (brand name Chantix) and buproprion (Zyban) and popular nicotine replacement including patches and inhalers. All of them will require a prescription and “we can’t guarantee that every med will be available to every individual,” said a Tricare official. “That’s still a doctor’s call based on the person’s health and other medications.”

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