Working together to end the country’s opioid epidemic

Published April 11, 2016

Opioid addiction in the United States has escalated into a deadly epidemic, claiming the lives of 78 Americans every day. What often starts as treatment for pain too frequently ends in addiction or even death. In fact, at least half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid.

We are facing a devastating public health crisis that is affecting communities large and small, in every corner of the country. It is a complex issue, and no single approach will result in a breakthrough. The entire healthcare community, working in partnership with federal, state and local officials must tailor responses to effectively meet community needs. 

Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) companies – which collectively cover nearly 105 million members and offer health coverage in every ZIP code – are uniquely positioned to help develop solutions that can be implemented in every community nationwide. Because of our deep ties to the communities we serve, we know firsthand the tragic toll addiction can have in those communities, and we’re already acting to reduce it.

BCBS companies are on the ground, working with patients, families, medical professionals, local governments, and other insurers to develop programs customized to meet local circumstances.  Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, for example, implemented a first-in-the-nation Prescription Pain Medication Safety Program to reduce the risk of addiction to opioid-based painkillers. The program emphasizes collaboration among medical professionals, pharmacists and patients to reduce the over-prescribing of painkillers. In three years, it has eliminated an estimated 21.5 million doses of opioid-based medications in the community. 

At BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York, an award winning public awareness campaign is providing medical professionals and the community with resources including continuing medical education, a middle school curriculum, and a 24/7 hotline. More than one in three people have reported being inspired by the campaign to discuss addiction with friends and family, or discard expired medications.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies also are at the forefront of the national dialogue, and, through the National Governors’ Association, we have committed to work alongside the nation’s governors in this fight. We’re forming an executive-level committee that brings together our companies’ top medical, pharmacological, fraud, public health, and policy experts to develop recommendations on how we can work with others in the healthcare community to ensure patients who need pain medication are safely getting the right medication, at the right time. In addition, BCBSA will:

  • Tap the BCBS System’s industry-leading data capabilities to look deeper into the prevalence of opioid addiction in the U.S. and its impact on the nation’s healthcare system.
  • Help educate Americans on substance use disorder and how to prevent it, by funding the production of a documentary for public broadcasting that provides a firsthand account of the struggles of individuals and families.  The documentary, produced by WNED TV Buffalo/Toronto, will provide insights on how to spot the signs of painkiller addiction and get help.

We commend the initiatives of federal and state governments and are excited to work with them to find solutions to address the epidemic.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are committed to working community by community, nationwide, to address opioid addiction and collaborate with public officials and other healthcare leaders to improve the health and safety of all Americans.