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Blue Shield of California’s Narcotic Safety Initiative Helps Plan Participants Avoid Opioid Dependence

Announcement comes on heels of California Healthcare Foundation’s release of white paper highlighting health plan action against opioid abuse

SAN FRANCISCO (June 29, 2016) – Blue Shield of California’s Narcotic Safety Initiative, the health plan’s three-year program to help its plan participants avoid opioid abuse and addiction, is seeing significant results in its first year.

In the program’s first year, there has already been an 11 percent reduction in Blue Shield of California members using the very highest doses of opioids and a 5 percent reduction in those using moderately high doses of opioids. Additionally, Blue Shield has reduced the proportion of new opioid utilizers progressing to chronic use by 25 percent, and has seen an overall reduction in all opioid consumption.

These results are part of a new white paper released this week by the California Healthcare Foundation that looks at how health plans in California are helping to reduce opioid over-prescribing and ensure people have access to recovery services.

The study titled “Changing Course: The Role of Health Plans in Curbing the Opioid Epidemic” surveyed 30 California health plans on their efforts, and provides case studies of three health plans including Blue Shield of California.

“Health plans can help our communities – providers, patients and policymakers – return to a more rational level of opioid prescribing, while ensuring patients get the care they need,” said Kelly Pfeifer, Director of High Value Care for the California Health Care Foundation in the news release that accompanied the paper.

Blue Shield’s Narcotic Safety Initiative was launched in 2015 and its goal is to reduce inappropriate prescribing and overuse of opioid narcotic medications for members by at least 50 percent by the end of 2018.

“The focus of Blue Shield’s program is twofold. We want to reduce unnecessary initial use of opioids for acute and chronic pain so that members are not unnecessarily exposed to the potential for chronic opioid dependence or addiction, and also promote safer opioid doses for those already on chronic opioid therapy,” said Marcus Thygeson, M.D., M.P.H., Blue Shield of California’s Chief Health Officer. “The opioid epidemic in the United States is a serious public health crisis, and we’ve made it a priority to work together with the rest of the healthcare delivery system to reduce opioid overuse.”

Over the past 15 years, opioid prescriptions have quadrupled, leading to a cascade of interrelated health, social and economic problems. In addition, accidental deaths from drug overdoses exceed those caused by motor vehicle accidents and firearms, and more of these deaths are caused by prescription opioids (primarily hydrocodone and oxycodone) than heroin and cocaine combined. Hospital admissions for opioid addiction treatment have increased five-fold and five times as many babies now need treatment for opioid exposure than year 2000.

Another study recently released showed that about 1 in 550 people who started opioids died as a result of their ongoing opioid use after an average of two and a half years.

“There is still plenty of work to be done in overcoming the opioid epidemic and health plans are in a unique position to influence the behavior of both prescribers and patients,” Thygeson said. “Together with the help of our community partners and providers, we can reduce the number of people getting started on chronic opioid treatment, continue to transition those already on chronic treatment to lower and safer doses of opioids, and put a stop to this dangerous public health crisis.”

Background on Blue Shield of California

Blue Shield of California, an independent member of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, is a nonprofit health plan with 4 million members, 6,800 employees and more than $14 billion in annual revenue. Founded in 1939 and headquartered in San Francisco, Blue Shield of California and its affiliates provide health, dental, vision, Medicaid and Medicare health care service plans in California. The company’s mission is to ensure all Californians have access to high-quality care at an affordable price. Blue Shield has contributed more than $325 million over the past ten years to the Blue Shield of California Foundation. Contact your local agent or broker about Blue Shield of California products and services, or visit