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Everyone in healthcare has a stake in preventing opioid-related deaths

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Dr. Jennifer Chambers leads Capital BlueCross’ clinical innovation, quality initiatives, and medical policy. Dr. Chambers serves on the board for Keystone Human Services and Keystone Autism Services. (Submitted)

Opioid addiction is a public health crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 115 Americans die each day from an opioid-related overdose. In fact in 2016, more people died in the United States from opioids than the number of Americans we lost in the entire Vietnam War.

This is a stark reminder that everyone in healthcare has a stake in preventing opioid addiction from needlessly taking any more lives. It is a healthcare crisis that is front and center for me each and every day.

As a start, I believe we need to get rid of the stigma, and recognize the medical condition that is opioid addiction. It impacts people from all walks of life. It could be your neighbor, a friend or a family member. It is an equal opportunity epidemic that doesn’t care about your gender, your race or your socio-economic status.

It is a serious, life-threatening, chronic illness and society’s view of addiction as a moral failure must change. This stigma is deep and it’s cultural, and we must get around it any way we can.

We also need more education, especially for our young people. Early education on the dangers and risk associated with opioids is critical. Armed with that information, a child or a teen can have the wherewithal to say ‘no’ when faced with an opioid situation.

I’ve treated young people who first took opioids as young as the age of twelve, leading to addiction.  An adolescent brain isn’t fully developed, and without the knowledge or decision making power to say ‘no,’ a peer-pressure induced moment, can lead to a life-altering disease.

We also need to take a hard look at how opioids are prescribed. According to the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association Health of America Report: America’s Opioid Epidemic and its Effect on the Nation’s Commercially Insured, one in five Blues members has been prescribed opioids – a staggering number that can have devastating impacts. The dosage and duration of the prescription matter when it comes to the risk of addiction.

To address this, Capital BlueCross imposed quantity limits on opioids in July 2017 resulting in a 42% reduction in opioids prescribed to our members. These quantity limits have been critical in stemming the flow of prescription opioids in our communities.

The human toll of addiction is devastating, and there is no silver bullet to solve it. But I believe working together as a community, with a common goal and passion, we can make a difference – saving one life at a time.