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Highmark introduces new effort to curb opioid addiction

| Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, 1:36 p.m.
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Highmark Inc. plans to implement a new policy designed to limit the supply of opioid painkillers to first-time recipients.

Under the new effort, a patient will be given a seven-day prescription and will have the opportunity — if necessary — to refill it for another seven days within a 30-day period. The limits won't apply to people who need opioids to manage pain from chronic conditions, such as cancer.

The goal is to reduce the risk of addiction to opioid-based medication. Highmark said data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show people who use an opioid for one day have a 6 percent chance of becoming dependent. If an opioid is used for more than a week, that addiction probability jumps to 13 percent.

“By limiting the prescribed amount for patients who typically may have had a surgery or an acute incident, we hope to reduce the number of people who eventually become addicted to these powerful drugs,” said Sarah Marche, vice president of pharmacy services for Highmark. “This approach is consistent with the recently released CDC safe prescribing guidelines.”

The program starts in March.

Highmark said it is also expanding its relationship with axialHealthcare, a Nashville firm that specializes in pain and opioid management solutions, with the introduction of a new tool that gives patient-specific, opioid-risk information directly to providers.

The program was tried two years earlier in West Virginia where 250 providers received clinical consultation on pain management. Highmark said results showed patients receiving opioids from multiple physicians fell by 28 percent. Plus, the number opioid overdoses fell by 25 percent.

“Eleven percent of the U.S. population is in chronic pain,” said Charles DeShazer, Highmark's chief medical officer. “This is why we are expanding the program to Pennsylvania. We expect positive results here, just as we have seen in West Virginia.”

Suzanne Elliott is a Tribune-Review staff writer. She can be reached at 412-871-2346, or via Twitter @41suzanne.

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