Report shows decline in opioid prescriptions and abuse diagnosis nationwide

By Margaret Browne
Thursday, July 12, 2018
Image of a pharmacy


According to the report “The Opioid Epidemic in America: An Update,” published today by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), the total number of opioid medications filled by commercially insured Blue Cross Blue Shield members has declined by 29 percent since 2013. In Washington state, the decline is even steeper, by 35 percent. 

Why is there a larger decrease in Washington?

Washington leads in efforts to stop the opioid epidemic due to the diligent efforts by the state and local policymakers. We have established guidelines that meet, and sometimes surpass, those of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

At Premera, there is a collaborative effort to address the opioid problem. For example, we are heavily involved in the Dr. Robert Bree Collaborative (Bree), established by the Washington State Legislature in 2011, “to provide a mechanism through which public and private health care stakeholders can work together to improve quality, health outcomes, and cost effectiveness of care in Washington state.” We work closely with providers to bring specific, targeted information about their prescribing patterns and highlight opportunities to improve that align with the Bree Collaborative and CDC guidelines. 

Along with many health plans across the country, we have put in programs and changed our policies that align to clinical guidelines intended to drive appropriate opioid prescribing and reduce the risk for opioid dependence and opioid-related overdoses. 

Premera encourages the use of non-opioid alternatives to ensure that our members have access to non-opioid pain management services as a key component of the managing their chronic pain. 

Premera also participates in many national efforts including National Drug Take Back Day—an important initiative that aims to stop drug use by teens and children of unused drugs found in the house.


With all this progress, we still have work to do.

Although the results show positive trends in the prescription process, 241,900 Blue Cross Blue Shield members were diagnosed with opioid use disorder in 2017. We have made great strides and want to continue leading in this space. Putting our members and community first means focusing on prevention, with appropriate dosages of opioids and providing members the appropriate treatment for abuse.

As with all Blue Cross Blue Shield companies, Premera is focused on advancing quality outcomes.

Today BCBSA announced a Blue Distinction Program for Substance Use Treatment and Recovery and a national hotline by 2020. The association’s Blue Distinction programs are dedicated to delivering better quality and improved health outcomes for patients. Premera is actively contributing to the development of these Blue Distinction Centers.

Are you being prescribed an opioid? Start the conversation. 

Here are some questions to ask your provider:

  • Is an opioid prescription right for me?
  • How long should I take it?
  • Could it interact with my other medications?
  • What if I still feel pain after taking the medication?

Margaret Browne is a director in our Pharmacy team at Premera Blue Cross.

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