A promising report from health insurance leader Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) saw a five percent drop in opioid addiction among their customers from 2013-2017. While the findings represent some encouraging news for the macro fight against opioid use disorder (OUD), the company also reported that 241,900 of their members were diagnosed with the disease in 2017. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that there over 42,000 opioid overdose fatalities in 2016 (the highest number to date) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that over 26 million Americans abuse these drugs. While the report expressed cautious optimism at the decline in OUD diagnoses, it still emphasized the need for increased treatment resources for those who are already affected.
What’s behind the Apparent Decline?
Some of the most significant findings in the report signal a fundamental change in the culture and perception of opioid addiction and an increased level of caution on the part of patients and physicians. For example, the total number of opioid medications filled by commercially insured BCBS members has declined by 29 percent since 2013 across the country. Nearly 70 percent of members filled their first prescription within CDC-recommended guidelines for both dose and duration. Subsequent prescriptions filled within CDC guidelines increased nearly 40 percent. It’s possible that the devastating effects of collective opioid abuse are finally being fully understood by all stakeholders.
The Future of Opioid Addiction Treatment
Blue Cross Blue Shield recognizes that there is still a great deal of work to be done in combatting opioid addiction in the United States, including increasing access to patients who need treatment. Of the over 22 million Americans that struggle with addiction, a little over ten percent actually receive quality care for their disease. It’s worth noting, however, that making treatment more accessible very often starts with insurance providers covering more care options. While the Affordable Care Act and Mental Health Parity Act have helped make treatment incrementally more accessible; however, many of those who need care continue to be priced out.