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Cigna to cut customer use of opioids by 25 percent over 3 years

Insurer will limit the quantity of painkillers when appropriate and explore additional controls for high-risk customers identified by its database

Susan Morse, Senior Editor

Cigna plans to do its part to curb the country's opioid epidemic by cutting the use of those drugs among its own customers by 25 percent over three years.

Achieving its goal would bring opioid use down to 2006 levels, Cigna said. The use of narcotic painkillers has quadrupled in the past 10 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cigna will limit the quantity of painkillers when appropriate and explore additional controls for high-risk customers identified by its database. Cigna's tracking programs will flag possible inappropriate use and the company will inform prescribers when an issue is identified.

[Also: American Medical Association president calls on doctors to curb opioid prescriptions to combat addiction]

The insurer said it is working with its network to ensure medication-assisted therapy – which combines behavioral therapy and medications to treat substance use disorders – is readily available and provided as part of a comprehensive treatment program.

Cigna promotes the rapid adoption of the new Centers for Disease Control guidelines on opioid use, prescribing opioids for the shortest time possible to treat acute pain, and talking with patients about all options and risks before beginning long-term therapy.

It also supports federal efforts to increase the patient limit for qualified physicians who prescribe buprenorphine, which would make medication-assisted therapy more accessible.

[Also: Insurers picking up more of the cost of opioid prescriptions, CDC study says]

Cigna is working with its network to ensure medication-assisted therapy – which combines behavioral therapy and medications to treat substance use disorders – is readily available and provided as part of a comprehensive treatment program.

Further, Cigna is supporting efforts to require prescribers to check state Prescription Drug Management Program databases when prescribing more than a 21-day supply of a painkiller such as oxycodone or morphine.

To further its goal, Cigna said it would tap into its experience with prevention, wellness and chronic disease management programs to will work with clients, physicians and others to develop ways to increase prevention and treatment of substance use disorders.

Reducing its customers' opioid use by 25 percent would return the use level to that of 2006, before the drug crisis, Cigna said.

[Also: CMS, Joint Commission pressed to change policies that promote opioid pain medicine overuse]

The stigma associated with substance use needs to be eliminated so that people will seek help, said Cigna. For many, substance use disorder is a chronic disease such as diabetes, the company said.

In additional efforts, on May 4, Cigna sponsored a forum, "Addiction in America." Earlier this month, it also announced its collaboration with the American Society of Addiction Medicine, furnishing customer claims data to ASAM to test and validate three performance measures related to addiction treatment.

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., with 47,055 lethal drug overdoses in 2014. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 10,574 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2014.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse

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