Beyond Numbers: Michigan’s Prescription Opioid Problem Deserves Attention  

Laurie Wesolowicz

| 3 min read

Director II of Pharmacy Services Clinical at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, member of the Michigan Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Commission

An epidemic. When it comes to prescription drug abuse, particularly of opioid painkillers, there is no other word adequate enough to describe what’s happening in Michigan. Oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone are being prescribed at dizzying rates. What starts as well-intended pain management can quickly turn to addiction.
  • Nationally, our state ranks 10th for rates of prescribing opioid pain relievers and 18th for overdose deaths.
  • The number of overdose deaths in Michigan has tripled since 1999. The majority of those deaths are caused by prescription drugs.
  • Health care costs for opioid abusers are almost nine times higher than for non-abusers.
  • When the prescription runs out or becomes too expensive, heroin sometimes fills the void. In fact, almost 50 percent of young people who use heroin started out by abusing prescription drugs.
The numbers - ranks, rates and percentages – paint a picture of the problem. For the families and friends of the 1,001 people who died from opioid and heroin overdoses in Michigan in 2014, the numbers are counted in seconds, minutes, hours, and days since their loved one was lost. Addiction doesn’t discriminate. Every overdose victim had a name, a face and people who loved them. Moving forward, our goal is to ensure that nobody else becomes a statistic, a number, because of prescription opioid abuse. We’re proud to be part of the Michigan Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Task Force, which is addressing the crisis of opioid use and addiction in Michigan. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is working to change the way opioids are prescribed by:
  • Partnering with physicians to ensure they’re not over-prescribing addictive medications.
  • Addressing ‘doctor shopping’, the practice of visiting multiple providers as a way to stockpile prescription drugs.
  • Utilizing a system we’ve created to flag people filling multiple prescriptions.
We’re firmly committed to the goals of less opioid dependence and fewer overdose deaths in Michigan. The numbers, and the people behind them, matter. Read Lt. Governor Brian Calley’s take on how we’ll win the fight against opioid addiction in Michigan and learn more about recently announced federal funding to support the effort. About the author: Laurie Wesolowicz is director of Pharmacy Services Clinical at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. She's a member of the Michigan Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Task Force. Her clinical expertise includes formulary development, specialty pharmacy initiatives, physician and pharmacist pay-for-performance incentives, medication safety and clinical utilization management operations, including pharmacy-related fraud and abuse. She’s been an adjunct clinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan since 1995, and she serves as the director of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and University of Michigan Postgraduate Year One Managed Care Pharmacy Residency program. Photo credit: frankieleon

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