New study finds significant changes in physician opioid prescribing patterns

Published March 15, 2019

New research published in The New England Journal of Medicine reveals significant variations in physicians’ opioid prescribing practices with some reassuring shifts but also with room for improvement. The analysis was based on Blue Cross Blue Shield Axis® (BCBS Axis) – the largest collection of commercial insurance claims, medical professional and cost of care information – through a secure data portal, and was led by Harvard Medical School researchers. The results highlight the need for physicians to tailor opioid prescribing to the individual.

The Harvard Medical School researchers, along with eight other leading U.S. institutions and health research programs, are members of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Alliance for Health Research (BCBS Alliance). 

“The research team’s findings will provide the medical and health care community with a better understanding of the impact of opioid prescriptions on first-time opioid users, providing needed insight on how we can better fight this devastating epidemic,” says Maureen Sullivan, chief strategy and innovation officer for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. “With a commitment to transparency that delivers insight, working with Harvard and the eight other prestigious institutions participating in the Alliance, the ultimate goal is to analyze and learn about critical health issues and find meaningful solutions that improve care quality and affordability for all Americans.” 

The BCBS Alliance was established in 2016 to engage leading U.S. health care researchers to explore key questions and topics using BCBS Axis data. The researchers involved in this program come together periodically to share insights and discuss critical health and health system issues, helping advance improvements in health care nationwide. Participants in the BCBS Alliance include: Harvard, Princeton University, Rice University, Scripps Research Translational Institute, Stanford University, University of California Berkeley, University of Chicago, University of Oklahoma and Yale University. 

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association is a national federation of 36 independent, community-based and locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies that collectively provide health care coverage for one in three Americans. BCBSA provides health care insights through The Health of America Report series and the national BCBS Health Index. For more information on BCBSA and its member companies, please visit We also encourage you to connect with us on Facebook, check out our videos on YouTube, follow us on Twitter and check out our blog.