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You Have Questions About Opioids in North Carolina – We Have Answers

By Anuradha Rao-Patel | August 16, 2018 | Industry Perspectives

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Over the past year, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) has tried to foster a conversation with consumers about the opioid epidemic. In fact, we’ve just launched a new website that collects a range of opioid-related resources to carry that conversation further.

You probably know someone or have heard about someone who has struggled with opioid addiction. Click here to find resources and information.

The opioid epidemic is a complex problem that touches on some very personal health issues, both physical and emotional. And while it’s not a problem that will be solved by a single Tweet or blog post, social media tools are a great resource that can provide useful insight and information.

Our blog posts on the topic of opioids generate a lot of comments on social media. All of those comments are valuable for our company as we work to improve the health and well-being of our state. Some of the comments are stated strongly – an indication of just how urgently we need a solution to opioid misuse and addiction.

We hear you. And we thank you for sharing your concerns and questions.

As we all move forward together – consumers, insurers, providers, lawmakers – toward solutions, now is a good time to address some of the more common issues we see on our social media channels about opioids and pain.

“I take opioids for chronic pain. Why does Blue Cross NC want to take away my medicine?”

If your health care provider has prescribed opioid pills for your chronic pain, don’t worry – we don’t want to ban opioids. We do not believe opioids are inherently dangerous. In fact, when clinically appropriate, opioids can be an effective solution to manage chronic pain and improving pain patients’ function.

But we do want to help doctors reduce the number of unnecessary or inappropriate opioid prescriptions. In early 2018, our company changed its policies to limit first-time prescriptions of short-acting opioids to seven days, to require prior authorization for first-time prescriptions of extended-release opioids, and to expand coverage to treat addiction.

Those changes are meant to prevent opioids from being prescribed to people who should be considered for alternative treatments. Patients who are currently on extended-release opioid therapy, including people being treated for cancer or who are hospice-eligible, will be able to get their prescribed pain medicines.

Blue Cross NC believes that anyone who genuinely needs opioids to manage chronic pain should have access to those medicines.

“I feel like I’m being opioid-shamed just for taking the pills my doctor prescribed. I’m not a bad person.”

Shame has no place in our collective conversation about opioids. Patients suffering from chronic pain who take opioids are simply looking for relief. Even those who misuse opioids are seeking relief, although it may not be relief from the physical pain they’re looking for.

When we talk about the dangers of opioid misuse, we are not passing judgment on anyone, whether they are taking opioids appropriately or not. Blue Cross NC employees are themselves customers of the company along with nearly 4 million other North Carolinians. Many of us take the same medicines as you. We understand the need for pain relief so we can all get on with our lives.

Everyone needs to be aware that opioids are potentially addictive drugs – and they don’t discriminate when it comes to their victims and those victims aren’t “bad” people.

“I thought North Carolina passed a law to block unnecessary opioid prescriptions. Didn’t that solve the problem?”

In June 2017, North Carolina adopted the NC STOP (Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention) Act, limiting first-time opioid prescriptions and requiring doctors to check the Controlled Substance Reporting System (CSRS) to see whether patients have been receiving opioid prescriptions from multiple doctors.

These requirements are huge steps forward in reducing opioid misuse, but the NC STOP Act hasn’t succeeded in changing our state’s pain management culture overnight.

We’re working on a number of fronts – including through our social media channels – to educate both providers and consumers about the NC STOP Act and its requirements. But legislation alone isn’t going to end the opioid epidemic in North Carolina.

“If I have a problem with pain or with opioid dependence, who can I talk to?”

There are resources available in North Carolina if you are struggling with pain or opioid dependency issues.

If you’re suffering from chronic pain, talk to your doctor about options that are right for you. It may not be possible to eliminate your pain entirely, but there are pain management tools and medicines available that can help you get your pain under control and improve your function.

Pain affects all of us differently and it can have a major impact on our physical and emotional well-being. If your pain is affecting your ability – or your desire – to get through the day, don’t wait to seek help.

Blue Cross NC is taking the lead on resolving the opioid epidemic in our state. We’ve launched a new website that collects resources and information about the scope of the problem and what we can all do to end opioid misuse.

By reading this blog post and being part of the conversation, you’re helping to find solutions. We look forward to hearing more from you