The opioid epidemic is one of the greatest public health threats the American population is facing, devastating communities nationwide. The main risks associated with opioid abuse are developing dependency (addiction), overdose, and death. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 70,000 people died from drug overdose in 2017 alone, making it a leading cause of injury-related death in the country. Of those deaths, about 68% involved a prescription or illicit opioid.
How did we get here? In the late 1990’s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers, and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at higher rates. This subsequently led to widespread diversion and misuse of these medications before it became clear that they could indeed be highly addictive. Perhaps the most pressing of issues is that opioids are being prescribed to patients for extended periods after a surgery or injury, and not having a follow-up reassessment by a medical professional.
There is no simple answer or method that can be applied to fight this epidemic, though an increase in education and awareness about the risks and dangers associated with prescription opioids is absolutely necessary. “Social awareness of opioid abuse and its dangers is crucial, as well as how to reverse an overdose, Naloxone being one example. If the patient does not need the opioid and can use other non-pharmacologic or non-opiate medications to manage pain, then that is a route the patient and provider should consider,” said Ana Rivera, Pharm D, Abarca’s Senior Pharmacist.
As a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM), Abarca has implemented the 2019 CMS Edits for Medicare Part D beneficiaries who receive opioid prescriptions and has also applied opioid edits at point of sale for other plan sponsors, such as Commercial clients.
Abarca has also partnered with a top university to conduct a study that will analyze the impact of the Medicare Opioid edits in the opioid crisis to bring awareness of the importance of these edits to this public health threat.
“The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program is an excellent tool available to pharmacists in the community setting to address the opioid crisis as it brings visibility to opioid overuse. I highly encourage prescribers to start using it. We can decrease the number of opioid abusers significantly by only prescribing them when absolutely necessary,” adds Rivera.
Just as this issue was not created in a vacuum, it cannot be solved in one. Stakeholders throughout the healthcare spectrum need to work together by sharing data and engaging with members, and in turn, save lives. With access to open channels of communication, PBMs in particular can add significant value when it comes to processing, analyzing, and predicting behavior. In this fight, information is power.
Abarca is “all in” to combat the opioid epidemic, and we challenge each of our partners and clients to join us.
Visit the CDC website for more educational tools and resources, including guidelines on prescribing opioids for chronic pain, tools for patients, and how you can play a part in preventing opioid-related overdoses.