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Opioid Use Fell 32% in CA BCBS Prescription Drug Safety Program

A BCBS prescription drug safety program significantly reduced opioid use, average prescription dosages, and overall consumption of painkillers.

A prescription drug safety program reduced opioid abuse

Source: Thinkstock

By Thomas Beaton

- The Blue Shield of California Health Plan, an independent member of Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS), successfully lowered overall opioid use by 32 percent during the first two years of its Narcotic Safety Initiative (NSI).  

The NSI leveraged evidence-based interventions to reduce unnecessary prescriptions and improve proactive management of opioids. Blue Shield of California cooperated with national, state and local task forces, as well as the California Department of Justice, to educate providers about the state’s prescription drug monitoring platform, known as the CURES database.

"The Narcotic Safety Initiative is about working with an interdisciplinary team to ensure that providers and members have the most current knowledge and resources to prevent potentially deadly addictions from opioid use,” said Salina Wong, PharmD, Blue Shield's director of clinical pharmacy programs.

The NSI led to a decrease in the number of people on high-dose opioids by 46.8 percent. The number of chronic opioid users also fell by 17.8 percent.

"While we are looking to reduce first-time use of opioids among our members when other treatment options can be as or more effective, we are also helping doctors and members aim for the lowest possible dose for those already on chronic opioid therapy," Wong added.

"There are additional factors that have contributed to the decrease in opiate consumption, however, the Narcotic Safety Initiative has certainly played a part in helping to keep Blue Shield members, their families and friends safe from opioid overuse.”

Cooperative payer-provider initiatives such as the NSI have been shown to be effective for combating opioid abuse.

Payer-provider partnerships hosted by large private payers such as Anthem and Cigna have used prescription drug auditing, strategic partnerships, and other collaborative care strategies to set ambitious opioid-related care goals. The two payers hope to cut prescription opioid rates by 30 percent and 25 percent respectively.

“The opioid epidemic is far too big for any one person or organization to fight alone. Success will require the efforts of multiple stakeholders,” said Cigna President and CEO David Cordani.“Helping doctors become more aware of their own prescribing patterns and the effectiveness of non-narcotic alternatives for pain management is key to helping our customers have better health outcomes.”

Expectations have increased for payers to take more action in increasing patient safety and outcomes related to opioid prescribing.

"As a health plan, Blue Shield is in a unique position to work together with our providers, members and policymakers to educate people about the dangers of opioids while simultaneously ensuring that our members are getting the care they need," Wong said. 

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