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BCBS Association: Use Alternative Pain Therapies Before Opioids

The BlueCross Blue Shield Association has announced a plan to end the use of opioids as a primary pain therapy.

BCBSA announced a plan to end opioids as primary pain therapies.

Source: Thinkstock

By Thomas Beaton

- The BlueCross BlueShield Association (BCBSA) has announced a new professional standard that removes opioid prescriptions as a primary pain treatment in a majority of clinical situations.

The payer’s National Council of Physician and Pharmacist Executives (NCPE) group adopted the new prescribing standards in an effort to limit patient risks for 106 million members nationally.

BCBS companies across the country plan to promote alternatives for pain treatment that include non-opioid treatments like over-the-counter drugs.  Leaders at BCBS created the standards based clinical guidelines from the CDC that promote alternatives to opioid-based pain medication and encourage the use of opioids as a last resort.

“Due to the lack of evidence combined with significant potential for harm, we believe professional standards require that BCBS members are given alternative options to opioids in most clinical situations,” said Dr. Trent Haywood, Chief Medical Officer for BCBSA. “We will work with medical professionals to ensure BCBS members are routinely provided alternatives to opioids through a mutual decision made inside the doctor’s office.”

In 2015, 21 percent of BCBS commercial plan members filled at least one opioid prescription, and opioid use disorder diagnoses spiked 493 percent over a seven-year period, BCBSA said.

BCBSA recently initiated plans to monitor the effectiveness of specialty drugs and is collaborating with pharmacies and payers to improve safe medication disposals.

"The impact of opioids in this country has been well documented," Haywood said.

"Because Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies represent one in three Americans in diverse communities with diverse needs, we are taking a comprehensive approach to addressing the opioid epidemic through prevention, intervention and treatment.”

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