The number of opioid medications filled by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska members declined nearly 20-percent from 2014 to 2017. Dr. Debra Esser is their chief medical officer and says doctors and patients have opened the chain of discussion when it comes to these dangerous narcotics.
Dr. Esser says, “I think there has been a lot more attention by the providers on their patients who are maybe misusing the drugs. Filling too frequently. Filling before they should have run out or maybe having symptoms of withdrawal. And then sitting down and having a frank discussion about opioid misuse disorder and getting them into the proper treatment programs. More of those treatment programs are available now.”
Dr. Esser says some of the newer treatments involve drugs that take away the craving for the opioid. Getting onto those drug assisted programs to get off the opioid is beneficial to patients.
Historically, men made up two-thirds of the members who’ve received treatment. Now that gap between genders is narrowing with a 61% increase in the number of women ages 40 to 60 seeing treatment.
Dr. Esser says, “It does tell us that women in particular are probably a little bit more agreeable to go into treatment. Maybe the stigma now is gone. In the past, people didn’t want others to know they had an addiction problem.”
Data shows it only takes eight days to become addicted to a narcotic. Dr. Esser says it is not the patient’s desire or fault. They’re in pain and before they know it they have the need to fill the medication.
Dr. Esser says Nebraska should be proud that even though the state doesn’t have a large opioid problem, we have decreased prescribing by almost 20%. Both patients and providers are aware of the risks of the drug and they are looking for alternate methods of controlling pain.