US Drug abuse alert

A NEW REPORT FROM THE health insurance industry shows signs of progress in curbing the nation's opioid epidemic.


from US News

Fewer opioid prescriptions were filled nationwide last year for Blue Cross Blue Shield health care customers, according to a report from the umbrella insurance organization, while diagnoses of opioid use disorder dropped slightly from 6.2 members per 1,000 in 2016 to 5.9 per 1,000 in 2017.

The drop in diagnoses marks the first decrease in eight years measured by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. Still, opioid use disorder – symptoms of which can include an inability to control or reduce opioid use, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – continues to afflict hundreds of thousands of Americans, especially in New England and the South.


"We are encouraged by these findings, but we remain vigilant," Dr. Trent Haywood, senior vice president and chief medical officer for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, said in a release detailing the study's findings. "More work is needed to better evaluate the effectiveness of treatment options and ensure access to care for those suffering from opioid use disorder."


The Health of America report examined medical and pharmacy claims of more than 41 million commercially insured Blue Cross Blue Shield members per year between 2013 and 2017, excluding "members with a diagnosis of cancer or (those) who are receiving services for palliative or hospice care."


The analysis showed opioid prescriptions declined 29 percent nationally between 2013 and 2017 among Blue Cross Blue Shield members, with 34 states seeing reductions higher than that national average.


Massachusetts (51 percent), Rhode Island (46 percent), Mississippi (43 percent), Vermont (41 percent), New Hampshire (41 percent) and New Jersey (41 percent) experienced the greatest reductions in overall opioid prescribing rates. Additionally, the number of Blue Cross Blue Shield members who filled at least one opioid prescription in a year decreased by 25 percent in the five-year period, from 20 percent in 2013 to 15 percent in 2017.


Yet almost a quarter of a million members – 241,900 – still were diagnosed with opioid use disorder in 2017 alone, according to the report.


Diagnosis rates were higher in New England and the South, with New Hampshire experiencing the highest rate at about 12 diagnoses per 1,000 Blue Cross Blue Shield members. South Dakota had the lowest rate at just over 2 diagnoses per 1,000.



The report's findings are similar to federal statistics on opioid prescription rates over the last half-decade.

The overall national opioid prescribing rate declined 18 percent from 2012 to 2016 to the lowest it had been in more than 10 years, at 66.5 prescriptions per 100 people – equivalent to more than 214 million total opioid prescriptions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Some counties, however, had prescribing rates that were seven times higher than that, and roughly a quarter of all U.S. counties had enough opioid prescriptions for everyone in the county to have one.


Nearly 2 million people were estimated to have an opioid use disorder related to prescription pain relievers in 2014, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, with an additional 586,000 believed to have an opioid use disorder related to heroin use.

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