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Blue Shield of California Helps Reduce Opioid Use Among Its Members by 56 Percent

Nonprofit health plan surpasses goal to reduce opioid use among members in half

SAN FRANCISCO (March 13, 2019) – Blue Shield of California’s Narcotic Safety Initiative results show a 56 percent reduction in overall opioid use by members with chronic, non-cancer pain compared to 2014, exceeding the nonprofit health plan’s year-end 2018 goal by 6 percentage points.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 46 people die every day from overdoses involving prescription opioids.

“As one of the largest health plans in California, serving 4 million members, we play an important role in helping to curb the course of this devastating public health epidemic,” said Terry Gilliland, M.D., Blue Shield’s senior vice president and chief health officer. “By focusing on evidence-based interventions, working closely with providers, and local and state collaboration, we’ve been able to help members reduce their risk for harm and accidental overdose and death from prescription opioid use.”

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Since launching the initiative in 2015:

  • The average daily dose among chronic users fell by 33 percent.
  • The number of members on the highest doses of opioids fell by more than 60 percent.
  • The percent of members taking the most dangerous combination of opioid and a benzodiazepine fell by 24 percent.

“Exceeding our 50 percent reduction goal demonstrates a significant, life-saving change in opioid prescribing and use, but our narcotic safety efforts must continue,” said Salina Wong, PharmD, Blue Shield’s director of clinical pharmacy programs. “Reducing opioid over-prescribing and overuse must be a sustained and collaborative effort among all stakeholders.” 

Blue Shield’s evidence-based interventions include:

  • Prescriber education programs that promote prudent prescribing and proactive management of opioids by medical prescribers.
  • Access to high quality programs and providers for health plan members to help manage chronic pain and opioid use disorder.
  • Improved formulary access to medication-assisted treatments for treatment of opioid use disorder.
  • Enhanced detection and management of fraud, waste and abuse.

Though opioid prescriptions have been on a steady decline over the past several years, deaths involving prescription opioids were five times higher in 2017 than in 1999, according to the CDC. Blue Shield remains committed to reducing opioid use and will continue work to combat the epidemic.

“In order to sustain and grow the progress we’ve made, doctors and patients must continue to seek safer treatments to manage chronic pain and remain vigilant when an opioid prescription is necessary,” Wong said. “Access to drug addiction treatment must be improved, including in primary care. State and federal policies must be aligned to support these efforts.”

About Blue Shield of California
Blue Shield of California strives to create a health care system worthy of our family and friends that is sustainably affordable. We are a not for profit, independent member of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association with care for four million members, 6,800 employees and more than $20 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 has contributed more than $500 million to Blue Shield of California Foundation since 2002 to have an impact on California communities.

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