Toll on Tennesseans Challenges BlueCross to Tackle State’s Opioid Crisis

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Tennesseans estimated to be misusing or abusing opioids or in treatment.

Tennesseans estimated to be misusing or abusing opioids or in treatment.

Last fall, Beth Anderson had hope that her daughter, Olivia Sucher, could break the grip of addiction. Olivia had the love and support of family and friends on her side.

April 2, 2016 changed all that.

With a phone call early that morning, the BlueCross employee learned that an overdose had claimed the life of her beloved daughter.

“She loved her family, and she was a good daughter, sister and friend to so many,” Beth said. “We tried so hard to help her.”

Secure drop boxes are located in law enforcement offices throughout Tennessee to dispose of unused or expired prescription medication.

Secure drop boxes are located in law enforcement offices throughout Tennessee to dispose of unused or expired prescription medication.

Beth’s family is one of thousands in Tennessee who’ve experienced the profound impact of abusing prescription painkillers known as opioids. It’s a concern nationwide, but it’s a crisis in Tennessee where deaths from opioid abuse jumped to 1,263 in 2014. Here 143 prescriptions are written for every 100 residents, making it second in the nation for opioid prescribing.

Tackling the state’s opioid epidemic
Lives like Olivia’s, represented by these statistics, challenged BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee’s CEO, JD Hickey, to make BlueCross a part of the solution.

Because of the number of opioid prescriptions BlueCross covers and the insight available on usage, it is uniquely positioned to make a difference, said Dr. Andrea Willis, BlueCross senior vice president and chief medical officer.

“While it seems out of the scope of what health plans do,” said Dr. Willis. “We knew we had to be a part of this.”

PrintGuided by an advisory panel of health care providers across the state, BlueCross put new opioid prescribing guidelines in place to impact quantities that can be prescribed. There are new requirements to ensure providers and patients discuss pain treatment plans and medication history before prescribing.

BlueCross is also using its pharmacy and medical data to identify providers who appear to prescribe opioids at a higher rate than statewide benchmarks and to reach out with best prescribing practices to guide them.

Curbing abuse at the medicine cabinet
In Tennessee, 55% of those who use prescription pain pills rec- reationally report getting them from family or friends. Often, that’s taking them from someone’s medicine cabinet.

With that in mind, BlueCross is also counting on community engagement and education to move the needle on the crisis. A partnership with the Coffee County Anti-Drug Coalition will educate on proper storage and disposal of prescription medication.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Chief Medical Officer Dr. Andrea Willis, Dr. Natalie Tate, vice president of pharmacy management and Dawn Abel, director of community relations and foundations help to guide the companys initiatives to reduce opioid abuse in Tennessee.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Chief Medical Officer Dr. Andrea Willis, Dr. Natalie Tate, vice president of pharmacy management and Dawn Abel, director of community relations and foundations help to guide the companys initiatives to reduce opioid abuse in Tennessee.

Their grassroots Count it! Lock it! Drop it! campaign is going statewide and expanding to counties designated as hot spots for opioid abuse. It includes drop boxes in law enforcement facilities in every county to safely dispose of prescriptions. The expansion is funded by the BlueCross Health Foundation as part of a $1.3 million public awareness campaign.

The Count It! Lock It! Drop It! program encourages you to:
Count It! Count pills every two weeks to monitor theft and help ensure medications are taken properly.
Lock It! Lock and store them in a secure place where others would not think to look.
Drop It! Take unused or expired medications to drop boxes located in participating law enforcement offices or pharmacies or during take-back events.

Promotional content provided by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Inc. and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation, Independent Licensees of the BlueCross BlueShield Association.

Story by Marie T. Mosley for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee
Photography by Rick Smith Photography and Sergio Plecas

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