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Tackling the opioid crisis by supporting care providers

BY SALINA WONG, PharmD -- According to a 2013 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, 75 percent of prescription drug overdoses involve an opioid medication. The over-prescribing and excessive use of these highly addictive drugs to treat pain has led to a national crisis with significant health and social consequences.

In an effort to help address this crisis, Blue Shield of California launched our Narcotic Safety Initiative in 2015 with an aggressive three-year goal of reducing inappropriate prescribing and overuse of opioid medications for our members by 50 percent.

As a next step in this endeavor, Blue Shield is sponsoring the Pain & Opioid Tapering Management Webinar Series for Clinicians. The series features respected clinicians in the field of pain and addiction management who will share research, results, and best practices for appropriate and safe prescribing, and tapering of opioids. The webinars are approved for AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ and they’re open to physicians, other clinicians, and staff who prescribe opioids and/or work with patients who take opioids.

Blue Shield is working even more closely with our Accountable Care Organization providers by offering to bring these resources directly to them with onsite presentations.

The first year of Blue Shield’s Narcotic Safety Initiative yielded tremendous results. Collaborations with organizations such as the California Health Care Foundation have helped to create awareness of the crisis and to share best practices.  Blue Shield’s Chief Health Officer Marcus Thygeson, M.D., also wrote an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle calling for the healthcare community to work together to reduce dangerous use of high dose opioids.


  • Blue Shield is certainly not alone in tackling this crisis, and those efforts involve additional resources for care providers looking for more information or assistance in taking care of patients with chronic pain and taking opioid medications. Here are some notable examples:The UC Davis ECHO® Pain TeleMentoring program, which runs throughout 2017, is designed to provide virtual peer-to-peer mentoring for providers. Each 60-minute learning and support session gives primary care clinicians an opportunity to increase their knowledge and skill in pain management. Actual patient cases are reviewed with a multidisciplinary team during an interactive session that allows for questions and in-depth discussions[1]. For more information about the program, visit the University of California, Davis Medical Center website here.



  • The UC Davis Train New Trainers: Primary Care Pain Management Fellowship provides a one-year, multidisciplinary, evidence-based educational program for those who want to become expert in chronic pain management within the primary care setting. The curriculum targets the most frequently encountered pain management issues faced in primary care, with a significant emphasis on addressing the crisis of prescription drug abuse and responsible opioid prescribing. The year-long program begins August 2017, and provides 20 Continuing Medical Education (CME) hours to participants. Additionally, participants have one-on-one mentoring sessions with a faculty member or mentor. Finally, participants can receive between 20 to 24 CME hours through two weekend teaching sessions at the UC Davis. Details and registration information can be found here.



  • University of New Mexico’s School of Medicine Chronic Pain & Opioid Management (ECHO® Pain) TeleECHO Clinic offers a provider learning community for receiving mentoring and feedback from specialists at their academic hub. Each week, primary care clinicians learn through didactic and case-based presentations by specialists on topics of interest related to chronic pain and opioid management. More information can be found here.


To echo Dr. Thygeson’s op-ed, while it will take time for us to reverse course on this complex problem, by working together, we can – and must – end this public health crisis.

Salina Wong, PharmD, is director of clinical pharmacy programs at Blue Shield of California

[1] no protected patient information is shared

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