Massachusetts Leading Way on Opioid Crisis


A new study from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) shows that Massachusetts is ahead of the US when it comes to combatting the opioid epidemic. From prescription rates to treatment, Massachusetts fares better than most states and the US average.

According to the latest BCBSA Health of America report – America’s Opioid Epidemic and its Impact on the Nation’s Commercially-insured Population – which looks at claims data from Blue Cross Blue Shield members nationwide, 14% of Blue Cross Blue Shield members in Massachusetts filled an opioid prescription in 2015 compared to 21.4% nationally.

The report also found that opioid use disorder diagnoses soared almost 500% from 2010 to 2016 nationally, while the use of medication-assisted treatment did not keep pace – up just 65%.  In Massachusetts, however, 84% of members diagnosed with opioid use disorder received medication-assisted treatment, the second highest rate in the nation behind Vermont. Medication-assisted Treatment, the combination of drug therapy and counseling, is one of the most effective therapies for this condition.

Read: How Dopamine Holds the Secret to Addiction

According to the report, prescriptions of high-dose, long-duration opioid-based medications are associated with higher rates of opioid disorder diagnoses. Here again, Massachusetts fared better than the nation. Just 2% of Blue Cross Blue Shield members in Massachusetts received a prescription for high-dose, long-duration opioid-based medications, the second lowest rate in the nation behind Minnesota, and far less than the national average of 8.3%.

Reducing the number of these high-dose, long-duration opioid-based medications was one of the key goals of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Prescription Pain Medication Safety Program, introduced in 2012. This first-of-its-kind program significantly reduced the risk of opioid misuse by requiring:

  • Prior authorization for all new short-acting opioid prescriptions for more than 30 days
  • Prior authorization for all new long-acting opioid prescriptions
  • A treatment plan between doctor and patient that considers non-narcotic options
  • A risk assessment for addiction signed by the patient
  • An opioid agreement between the patient and prescriber outlining expected behavior of both parties

In its first three years, the Prescription Pain Medication Safety Program eliminated more than 21 million doses of opioid-based medications. Additionally, the program became the model for legislative action by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

“The opioid epidemic remains one of the most critical health care issues of our time,” said Bruce Nash, Chief Physician Executive, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. “Our health plan led an early and aggressive response to the issue of over prescription of opioid medications that has inspired action by others. This Health of America report indicates that together we may be having an impact. We will continue to look for innovative approaches to stem all forms of substance use disorder, but this is a community-wide problem that requires a community-based solution.”

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts has taken other definitive steps to help to address the opioid epidemic, including improving access to medication-assisted treatment for members. The company is also a founding member of RIZE Massachusetts. RIZE is an independent nonprofit organization that seeks to raise $50 million over the next three years to support innovative care that helps people with substance use disorders adhere to their treatment and maintain their recovery.

For more information about BCBS companies’ local efforts to combat opioid misuse, visit Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts’ Prescription Pain Medication Safety program is featured on this website.

This is the 13th study in the Health of America Report® series, a collaboration between BCBSA and Blue Health Intelligence, which uses a market-leading claims database to uncover key trends and insights into health care affordability and access to care.

Author: Richard Joy

My mission is to get you to conquer fear, grow spiritually and build out physically, spiritually and emotionally, emanating strength, grit and determination. Having been lost myself, witnessing men around me die in addiction and pain, I have walked the path of spiritual discipline, inner truth and learned from men of wisdom in the spirit of humility and love.

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