More than one in five people insured by Blue Cross and Blue Shield were prescribed an opioid painkiller at least once in 2015, the insurance company reported Thursday.
And claims for opioid addiction and dependence surged nearly 500 percent between 2010 and 2016, the company said.
The report, which covers 30 million people with Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance in 2015, supports what experts have been saying: much, if not most, of the opioid overdose epidemic is being driven by medical professionals who are prescribing the drugs too freely.
“Twenty-one percent of Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) commercially insured members filled at least one opioid prescription in 2015,” the report says. “Data also show BCBS members with an opioid use disorder diagnosis spiked 493 percent over a seven year period.”
The report excludes people with cancer or terminal illnesses. What it found fits in with similar surveys of people with Medicare, Medicaid or other government health insurance, said Dr. Trent Haywood, chief medical officer for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCSBA).
“It’s consistent,” Haywood said.
The United States is suffering an intense opioid overdose epidemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
“Opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, more than any year on record. Nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid,” CDC says.
The report also finds people in the areas hardest hit by the epidemic are least likely to get medication-assisted treatment, a regimen that includes counseling and drugs such as buprenorphine to help wean patients off the highly addictive opioids.
The CDC has been trying to get doctors to prescribe opioids only when absolutely necessary, and to prescribe as low a dose as possible for the shortest time possible. Other painkiller options include ibuprofen or acetaminophen, ice and even relaxation techniques.