How Tennessee Collected More Unused Prescription Drugs Than Any State In The Nation

by Rashi Venkataraman, Executive Director for Prevention & Population Health, AHIP

March 26, 2018

Last year, Tennessee collected more unused prescription drugs than any other state in the nation—more than 68,000 pounds of pills. The collection was part of the Count It! Lock It! Drop It! ® nonprofit initiative that helps people in 69 counties across the state. It is funded in part by the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBS of TN) Health Foundation.

BCBS of TN, which serves more than 3.4 million members across the state, takes a multipronged approach to tackling the opioid crisis. We sat down with Mary Danielson, Director of Corporate Communications for BCBS of TN, to learn more about these efforts.

Why did BCBS of TN dedicate resources to drug take back?

Mary Danielson: As our leadership evaluated the opioid crisis, they encouraged us to tackle this epidemic from a clinical and social perspective. On the clinical front, health insurance providers are reviewing prescribing practices and leveraging medical management techniques to fight the problem. In 2017, these efforts (reduced prescribing, prior authorization, quantity limits) resulted in 194,000 fewer prescriptions filled, representing a 6 percent decrease in the number of opioid prescriptions per member, per month.

However, there’s also a role to play from the social perspective, and levers to push to motivate change. In 2016, more Tennessee residents died of a drug overdose than of a roadway fatality. When we dug into the number further, we found that 55 percent of recreational prescription drug users are getting their pills from a friend or relative. So, we wanted to make sure our strategy includes interventions aimed at these handoffs of prescription drugs.

How did you set up your partnership with Count It! Lock It! Drop It!®

Danielson: The Count It! Lock It! Drop It! model really emphasizes a grassroots approach to this problem. The team worked with a diverse group of stakeholders on the ground in different communities—doctors, pharmacists, schools, and business leaders all had a role to play in tackling this crisis. As a health insurance provider, we were able to provide resources to really amplify the messaging and marketing across the state through billboard advertisements, radio spots, and public service announcements. The community group on the ground  was able to tap into anti-drug coalitions and other community leaders to really get the word out about Drug Take Back days in the neighborhood.

Tell us a bit more about the Count It! Lock It! Drop It!  approach.

Danielson: It offers residents a simple formula for reducing the risk of pill theft.

  1. Count your prescription pain pills regularly.
  2. Lock up your pills securely where only you can access the medication.
  3. Drop off any unused medication promptly.

The campaign is geared to all Tennesseans, giving every patient the chance to do their part to positively impact the crisis. In 2017, Tennesseans dropped off more than 68,000 pounds of prescription pills, as reported by the Drug Enforcement Administration (more than 4.5 grams per person).

What advice would you give to other health organizations considering similar initiatives?

Danielson: Messaging around this issue is so important—the health care community needs to carefully position this epidemic without inadvertently placing blame on any group. The tag line of Count It! Lock It! Drop It!  is “Don’t Be An Accidental Drug Dealer” and really tries to emphasize this point. It’s critical that we elevate awareness of the dangers of these drugs while also inspiring behavior change.

It’s vital for health insurance providers to also choose partners that are embedded in their communities.  As the largest health benefit plan company in the state, we brought a level of name recognition and credibility to the table, but community leaders are really the ones that can inspire their neighbors to get involved and participate in the activities.

To learn more about health plan strategies for tackling the opioid crisis, please read AHIP’s Safe, Transparent Opioid Prescribing (STOP) Playbook.