The number of opioid medications filled by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska (BCBSNE) members declined 19 percent from 2014 to 2017. 

“There has been a lot more attention given by providers to their patients who may be misusing the drugs, filling too frequently, filling before they’ve run out, or maybe having symptoms of withdrawal,” said Dr. Debra Esser, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska’s chief medical officer.  “Doctors are sitting down and having a frank discussion with their patients about opioid misuse disorder so that they can get into the proper treatment programs.”

Nationally, the total number of opioid medications filled by insured Blue Cross members declined 29 percent, with Massachusetts residents leading at a 51 percent decline, according to a Blue Cross Blue Shield Association Health of America study released today.

Opioid disorder diagnoses in BCBSNE members peaked in 2016.  At the same time, the rate of individuals receiving treatment increased 36 percent.  Historically, men made up two thirds of the members who’ve received treatment.  Now the gap between genders is narrowing, with a 61 percent increase in the number of women ages 40 to 60 seeking treatment.

“It does tell us that women in particular are probably a little bit more agreeable to go into treatment, maybe the sigma now is gone. In the past people didn’t want others to know they had an addiction problem,” Dr. Esser said.  “It only takes eight days to become addicted to a narcotic.  It’s often not the patient’s desire or fault. They’re in pain and before they know it they have this need to fill the medication.”

There are a number of different treatments available for opioid disorder.  Newer treatments involve drugs that take away the craving of the opioid.

Esser says Nebraskans should be proud that even though the state doesn’t have a large opioid problem, we have decreased prescribing by almost 20 percent.  Both patients and providers are very aware of the risks of opioids and they’re looking for alternate methods of controlling pain.