Opioid prescriptions declined by 28 percent from 2013 to 2017 among policy holders at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the state’s largest health insurance carrier, the company announced Thursday, touting its efforts to identify abusers by working with doctors and pharmacists.
The state is on track to exceed 3,000 drug deaths in 2018, which would set a record for the third-straight year, according to a data from the state Attorney General’s Office. The rise is almost entirely blamed on the opioid crisis, which accounted for more than 85 percent of drug-related deaths in 2016.
Horizon officials say they are attacking the opioid epidemic by detecting questionable repeat prescriptions at pharmacies. That effort paid off n 2016, when opioid prescriptions declined 37 percent among Medicaid clients.
Horizon officials say they are also educating prescribers on how to identify high-risk patients, and referring policy holders taking high doses of pain medication to case management and treatment services.
“While the results are encouraging, we are faced with daily reminders that fully understanding and combating this public health crisis requires greater collaboration and engagement at virtually every level, and Horizon is committed to that goal,” Horizon CEO and President Kevin P. Conlin said in a statement.
“Horizon is devoting a substantial part of the federal tax refund it is getting to increase prevention and treatment, expand community outreach and intensify our multi-faceted, long-term strategy to help our members stay or become addiction-free,” Conlin’s statement’s said. “We are determined to continue to be a national leader when it comes to winning the fight against opioids.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set guidelines recommending a seven-day supply is typically all that is required.
Horizon also made progress on this front. Last year, 62 percent of people taking opioids used them for seven days or less, up seven percent from 2013, Horizon said.
“By leveraging best-practice education and preventive interventions that target at-risk members and prescribers, Horizon has been able to identify, intervene and prevent the abuse of opioids. We use advanced analytics to better understand what is happening and to stop or prevent abuse,” said Tom Graf, Horizon’s chief medical officer and a physician.
New Jersey opioid prescription rates are low compared to the rest of the country. But with the record-number of overdose deaths, health care providers, insurance carriers and lawmakers have tried varying strategies to get the problem under control.
New Jersey enacted the toughest prescribing law in the country last year under Gov. Chris Christie, which set a five-day limit on initial prescriptions for opioids treating acute pain – such as surgery and extensive dental work. Prescribers could renew the script after the fourth day, as needed.
There are 3.8 million Horizon policy holders in a state of nearly 9 million people.
NJ Advance Media Staff Writer Stephen Stirling contributed to this report.