pills

Business leaders have a responsibility to improve communities and save lives

Partnerships to combat opioid epidemic can serve as a model for future collaboration

Consider these statistics:

The number of people dying from opioid-related overdoses in Michigan has tripled in the past five years.

Our state ranks 10th in the nation for the rate at which we prescribe opioid pain relievers. Statewide, 11 million prescriptions were written in 2016 – enough for every Michigan resident to have his or her own bottle of medication – or 80 tablets per person.

In 2016, nearly 1,800 Michigan residents died from opioid-related overdose deaths. That’s higher than the number of people who died in traffic accidents.

We know the opioid epidemic is harming families and ravaging communities in Michigan and across the nation. As a business leader and CEO of Michigan’s largest health plan, I also know the epidemic is compromising the health of many Michiganders and costing their employers – and it is extremely burdensome on our health care system.

But we, as community members and business leaders, do not have to be bystanders to this crisis. There’s much that we can do – and must do – to improve the health of our communities and save lives.

At Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, that work is underway, and we plan to do more.

As a company with a strong social mission, we are committed to addressing the growing opioid epidemic, including through enhanced awareness and partnerships with physicians, public health advocates and officials.

Some of our efforts include the creation of a task force to ensure a comprehensive and coordinated approach to tackle the issue. Our teams have also developed an Opioids Provider Toolkit to provide best practices and resources, as well as data and resources on opioid use and tips to safely manage pain. And we’ve launched a new website available to everyone looking for answers.

We are supporting our communities by funding initiatives to fight opioid abuse. For example, we’re working with partners to provide one-time grants to nine community coalitions across the state. Along with the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation, we joined the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, Superior Health Foundation and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan to award more than $500,000 in grants.

And Blue Cross is working directly with doctors to coordinate care to reduce opioid abuse and overdose from prescriptions for controlled substances. That’s on top of an important policy change we initiated to more strongly regulate opioid prescriptions, including limiting supplies except for those who have a cancer diagnosis or are terminally ill.

We are proud of these steps, which are delivering life-saving results.

After six months of working with doctors, we’ve seen a nearly 51 percent reduction in Blue Cross members using one dangerous combination of drugs that includes an opioid. And in three years, we’ve seen a 76 percent decrease in the number of members receiving the dangerous “Triple Threat,” a drug combination that includes opioids.

Overall, through the many combined efforts, Blue Cross has seen a 24 percent reduction in the number of opioid pills dispensed.

Now, we encourage others to join us, starting with awareness campaigns.

As business and community leaders, we know we can accomplish great things by working together — as we’ve seen from our joint efforts to support the resurgence of Detroit, as well as the joint economic development projects across our state.

Our need to partner again – this time to combat the opioid crisis — is literally a matter of life and death.

Daniel J. Loepp is President and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, which serves nearly 5.4 million members in all 50 states.

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Photo credit: Marco Verch

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