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Helping Our Communities Fight Opioid Abuse

posted by Alicia Caramenico

on July 17, 2017

The abuse of prescription pain medications has become a national crisis, with roughly 20,000 people a year dying from painkillers – more deadly than gun violence. And, more than half of abusers are between the ages of 12 and 25.

“It is no secret that America today is battling one of the most severe health epidemics of the 21st century: prescription drug abuse,” Julie R. Snyder, vice president of Corporate Relations of BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York told AHIP in an interview. In her region, 20 percent of young adults (ages 18-25) suffer from substance abuse problems and 65 percent of those abuse painkillers.

That’s why in 2013, BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York launched a community-wide effort to increase awareness of painkiller abuse and heroin addiction with its PainKillers Kill campaign.

“Painkillers Kill was inspired by BlueCross BlueShield members Avi and Julie Israel, who lost their teenage son to synthetic opiates. They were embarrassed by their own lack of awareness and surprised by the lack of treatment options,” Snyder explained.

The campaign provides resources to the medical community and community at large, including continuing medical education (CME), a middle school curriculum, production of a documentary, multimedia advertising, information cards for pharmacies and doctors’ offices, a dedicated website, and a 24/7 hotline, she noted.

In Massachusetts, CeltiCare Health Plan also is combating the state’s growing opioid crisis by allowing  patients to access all treatments – detox, outpatient care, medication – without prior approval, the Boston Globe reported. It offers to teach patients and their families how to administer the drug naloxone to someone who is overdosing on heroin.

The Globe also reported that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is coordinating care for members in detox programs to help prevent relapses, while Neighborhood Health Plan’s recovery coaches are helping members stay sober.

Health plans continue to raise awareness in their communities and collaborate with health care organizations to ensure patients have the support they need to get and stay sober.  That support is making a real difference. More than one in three consumers said they were inspired by BCBSWNY’s campaign to discuss addiction with friends and family or discard expired medications.

And as one Massachusetts man recovering from a heroin addiction told the Globe: “It’s me doing the work, but without asking for that help that I’m getting from CeltiCare and my therapist and my support network, I wouldn’t be able to do this on my own.”