Reconnecting the mind and body to solve the nation’s addiction crisis

Published December 2, 2016

With further irrefutable evidence that the nation’s addiction crisis is worsening, now is the time to dramatically rethink how we face addiction in the U.S.

Nearly 21 million people in the U.S. are living with a substance use disorder—more than 1.5 times the number of people with cancer, according to the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s landmark report, Facing Addiction in AmericaReleased earlier this month, the report sheds light on the scope and causes of the nation’s addiction epidemic—and how to stop it.

"Addressing the addiction crisis in America will require seeing addiction as a chronic illness – not as a moral failing."

-U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy

One of the most important things we can do, Dr. Murthy says, is to see addiction as a chronic illness and to treat it like one. With solutions top of mind, hundreds of researchers, treatment providers, health policy experts and other public figures gathered for a national summit to rethink how we can adopt an evidence-based public health approach to combat addiction, with an emphasis on reconnecting the mind and the body.

During a panel presentation, Dr. Stephen Friedhoff, Senior VP for Clinical Strategy and Programs at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, called for a major integration of physical and behavioral health, specifically through the training of primary care physicians, during the panel discussion. For instance, Anthem places behavioral health specialists into primary care settings and nurses into mental health centers. This exposure and practice in a new setting helps build skill sets and round out the team for the patient’s benefit, Friedhoff explained.

The report also underscores the breadth of the nation’s opioid crisis as more than 2 million Americans are currently struggling with an addiction to prescription pain medications and 78 people die each day from opioid overdoses.

In communities throughout the U.S., Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) companies are helping reverse the tide of opioid addiction by working with patients, families, medical professionals, local governments, and other insurers to develop programs customized to meet local needs.

For instance, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts created an innovative program that helps patients, medical professionals and pharmacists work together to reduce the over-prescribing of painkillers. Over three years, the program led to better communication between patients and doctors, improved care for patients and resulted in 21.5 million fewer prescribed doses of opioids.

BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York created a public awareness campaign, PainkillersKill, in collaboration with 50 community partners, that includes educational programs and resources for middle and high school students, continuing education for medical professionals and a 24/7 hotline. The program also works directly with local pharmacies to distribute information about the opioid crisis and provides resources and information for those seeking help for their addiction. 

BCBS companies are also using data to uncover links between age, diagnosis and opioid dosing patterns and the potential for opioid misuse. And, through the BCBS Alliance for Health Research, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association has partnered with Harvard University in a major research initiative to explore variations in prescribing of opioids by medical professionals and the use of opioids for the treatment of pain versus alternative therapies.