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Aetna puts more than 900 physicians on notice they fall within top 1 percent of opioid prescribers

In 2012, healthcare providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioids, enough for a bottle per every American adult, CDC says.

Susan Morse, Senior Editor

Aetna has sent a letter to over 900 physicians, telling them they fall within the top 1 percent of opioid prescribers.

Aetna gave no mandate, but included with the letter a checklist for prescribing opioids that asks them to consider non-opioid therapies, to set realistic goals for pain, and to discuss the benefits and risks with patients, among other considerations.

"Based on an analysis of our pharmacy claims data over the past year, you have been identified as falling within the top 1% of opioid prescribers within your specialty,"  Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Harold L. Paz, MD wrote and underlined in the letter that addresses in bold the "Top 1% of Opioid Prescribers."

[Also: Doctors need new skill set for opioid abuse treatment]

The undated letter was sent earlier this month or late last month to 931 physicians, Aetna confirmed in a story first reported by The Washington Post.

Opioids are a threat to national health, Paz said.

In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated there were nearly 19,000 overdose deaths in the United States associated with prescription opioids, he said. In 2012, healthcare providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication, enough for every adult in the United States to have a bottle of pills.

[Also: Medical services for people diagnosed with opioid dependence skyrockets]

Opioid prescriptions per capita increased 7.3 percent from 2007 to 2012, with opioid prescribing rates increasing more for family practice, general practice, and internal medicine compared with other specialties, Paz said in the letter.

"I believe that information and transparency are the first step in combating this epidemic," Paz said. "Aetna has recently launched an initiative to share best practices for prescribing opioids and to help doctors understand how their opioid-prescribing habits compare to those of their peers. As part of this effort, we are identifying and alerting prescribers who our data indicates are outliers in their opioid prescribing patterns." 

Twitter: @SusanJMorse

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